Objections to CALVINISM

as it is

by Randolph S. Foster



God’s Eternal Decrees


IF THE READER HAS not considered the previous chapter, he will do himself a service to turn back and give it a perusal before he proceeds to read what follows.


When one man proposes to discuss the opinions of another man or company of men, it is of first importance that he understand the opinions which he thus proposes to discuss, and, understanding them himself, that he clearly and distinctly state them to his readers. In every discussion, the first thing to be settled is the precise point in dispute; and if this be omitted, the controversy must needs degenerate into a mere idle logomachy–an unprofitable strife of words.


And it is not always sufficient that the opinions of an opponent be clearly stated when practicable, they should be stated in precisely his own language, that the chances of misrepresentation may be as few as possible, and that the reader may see the grounds upon which the particular construction is based. This is due an opponent; it is due the reader; it is due the cause of truth.


In accordance with these views, I shall proceed at once to state the point in Calvinian theology to which I am about to object and to give the system and its advocates the benefit of a candid and unprejudiced statement. I shall first quote the sections of the Confession of Faith which regard it, and then the interpretations given thereto by the most eminent and accredited of its de fenders. If the reference to authors shall be large, it will be that we may gain the very best possible light upon the point in question. The subject to be treated of in this chapter is God’s Eternal Decrees; and upon this subject the Confession of Faith, chapter three, sections one and two holds the following language:


God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.


Although God knows whatsoever may or can came to pass upon all supposed conditions, yet hath he not decreed anything because he foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions.


This is the article of faith. In corroboration and exegesis of it, I read from the Larger Catechism:


What are the decrees of God?


God’s decrees are the wise, free, and holy acts of the counsel of his will, whereby, from all eternity, he hath, for his own glory, unchangeably foreordained whatsoever comes to pass in time, especially concerning angels and men.


In the exposition of the Confession of Faith by Rev. R. Shaw, “revised and published by the Presbyterian Board of Publication,” I read treating of the article of faith,


That God must have decreed all future things, is a conclusion which necessarily flows from his foreknowledge, independence, and immutability. The foreknowledge of God will, necessarily, infer a decree; for God could not foreknow that things would be, unless he had decreed they should be.


If God would be an independent being, all creatures must have an entire dependence upon him; but this dependence proves, undeniably, that all their acts must be regulated by his sovereign will.


If God be of one mind, which none can change, he must have unalterably fixed everything in his purpose which he effects in his providence.


The decree of God relates to all future things without exceptions. Whatsoever is done in time was foreordained before the beginning of time.


The decrees of God are absolute and unconditional: he has not decreed anything because he foresaw it as future, and the execution of his decree is not suspended upon any condition which may or may not be performed.


Nothing can happen but what is subject to his knowledge and decreed by his will.


If God simply foresaw the fates of men and did not also dispose and fix them by his determination, there would be reason to agitate the question whether his providence or foresight rendered them at all necessary. But, since he foresees future events only in consequence of his decree that they shall happen, it is useless to contend about foreknowledge, while it is evident that all things come to pass rather by ordination and decree.


But what reason shall we assign for his permitting it, but because it is his will? It is not probable, however, that man procured his own destruction by the mere permission and without the appointment of God, as though God had determined what he would choose to be the condition of the principal of his creatures.


I shall not hesitate, therefore. to confess plainly with Augustine that the will of God is the necessity of things, and that what he has willed will necessarily come to pass.


All things, both being, and events, exist in exact accordance with the purpose, pleasure, and what is commonly called the decree of God.


The decrees of God relate to all future things without exception. Whatsoever is done in time was foreordained before time.


Decrees of God are his settled purpose whereby he foreordained whatever comes to pass. The opinion that whatever occurs in the world at large, or the lot of private individuals, is the result of previous and unalterable arrangement by that supreme Power which presides over nature, has always been held by many of the vulgar, and has been believed by speculative men. The ancient Stoics, Zeno and Chrysippus, whom the Jewish Essenes seem to have followed, asserted the existence of a Deity, that, acting wisely, but necessarily, contrived the general system of the world; from which, by a series of causes, whatever is now done in it, unavoidably results. Mohammed introduced into his Koran the doctrine of absolute predestination of the course of human affairs. He represents life and death, prosperity and adversity’, and every event that befalls a man in this world, as the result of a previous determination of the one God, who rules over all. Augustine, and the whole of the earliest reformers, but especially Calvin, favored this doctrine.


The characteristical feature of the Calvinistic system is that entire dependence of the creature upon the Creator, which it uniformly asserts, by considering the will of the supreme Being as the cause of every thing that now exists or that is to exist at any future time.


The supreme Being selects those single objects and those combinations of objects which he chooses to bring into existence; and every circumstance in the manner of the existence of that which is to be thus depending entirely on his will, is known to him, because he decreed it should be.




Every action and motion of every creature is governed by the hidden counsel of God, so that nothing can come to pass, but was ordained of him.


All things come to pass by his ordination and decree.


But, since he foresees future events only in consequence of his decree that they shall happen, it is useless to contend about foreknowledge, while it is evident that all things come to pass rather by ordination and decree.


Reason and revelation are in perfect unison in assuring us, that God is the supreme, independent, first cause, of whom all secondary and inferior causes are no more than the effects.


In this, and the following quotations from Toplady, we have also the sentiments of Zanchius, as Toplady but translates Zanchius.


It may seem absurd to human wisdom, that God should harden, blind, and deliver up some men to a reprobate sense–that he should first deliver them over to evil, and then condemn them for that evil; but the believing, spiritual man sees no absurdity in all this, knowing that God would be never a whit less good, even though he should destroy all men.


Though he (God) may be said to be author of all the actions done by the wicked, yet he is not the author of them, in a moral, compound sense, as they are sinful, but physically simply, and sensu diviso, as they are mere actions, abstractly from all consideration of the goodness or badness of them.


Hence, we see that God does not immediately and per se infuse iniquity into the wicked, but powerfully excites them to action, and withholds those gracious influences of his Spirit, without which every action is necessarily evil.


Every action, as such, is undoubtedly good, it being an actual exertion of those operative powers given us by God for that very end. God may, therefore, be the author of all actions, and yet not be the author of evil.


Whatever things God wills or does, are not willed and done by him, because they were, in their own nature, and previously to his willing them, just and right, or because, from their intrinsic fitness, he ought to will and do them; but they are, therefore, just, right, and proper, because he is holiness itself, wills and does them.




We make God the arbiter and governor of all things, who, in his own wisdom, has, from the remotest eternity, decreed what he would do, and now, by his own power, executes what he has decreed. Whence we assert, that not only the heavens, and the earth, and inanimate creature, but also, the deliberations and volitions of men, are so governed by his providence as to be directed to the end appointed by it.


It should be considered as indubitably certain, that all the revolutions visible in the world proceed from the secret exertion of the divine power. What God decrees must necessarily come to pass.


I admit more than this: even that thieves, homicides, and other malefactors, are instruments of divine providence, whom the Lord uses for the execution of the execution of the judgments which he has appointed.


They consider it absurd [they whose views Calvin opposes that a man should be blinded by the will and command of God, and afterward by punished for his blindness. They, therefore, evade the difficulty, that it happens only by the permission, and not by the will of God; but God himself, by the most unequivocal declarations, rejects this subterfuge. That men, however, can effect nothing, but by the secret will of God, and can deliberate on nothing, but what he has previously decreed, and determined by his secret direction, is proved by express and innumerable testimonies.


The whole may be summed up thus: that, as the will of God is said to be the cause of all things, his providence is established as the governor in all the counsels and works of men; so that it not only exerts its power in the elect, who are influenced by the Holy Spirit, but also compels the compliance of the reprobates.


God’s sovereign decree is the first link, his unalterable decree the second, and his all active providence the third in the great chain of causes. What his will determined, that his decree established, and his providence, either mediately or immediately, effects. His will was the adorable spring of all, his decree marked out the channel, and his providence directed the stream. If so, it may be objected that whatever is, is right. Consequences cannot be helped.


But does not this doctrine tend to the establishment of fatality? Supposing it even did, were it not better to be a Christian fatalist than to avow a set of loose Arminian principles which, if pushed to their full extent, will inevitably terminate in the rankest Atheism? For without predestination there can be no providence; and without a providence, no God. After all, what do you mean by fate? If you mean a regular succession of determined events, from the beginning to the end of time—an uninterrupted chain without a single chasm, all depending on the eternal will and continued influence of the great first cause–if this is fate, it must be owned that it and the Scripture predestination are, at most, very thinly divided or, rather, entirely coalesce.


God’s foreknowledge, taken abstractly, is not the sole cause of beings and events, but his will and foreknowledge together.


Whatever comes to pass, comes to pass by virtue of the absolute, omnipotent will of God, which is the primary and supreme cause of all things.


The will of God is so the cause of all things as to be itself without cause; for nothing can be the cause of that which is the cause of everything, so that the divine will is the ne plus ultra of all our inquiries. When we ascend to that, we can go no further. Hence, we find every matter resolved, ultimately, into the mere sovereign pleasure of God, as the spring and occasion of whatsoever is done in heaven and earth. And no wonder that the will of God should be the mainspring that sets all inferior wheels in motion, and should likewise be the rule by which he goes in all his dealings with his creatures, since nothing out of God, exterior to himself, can possibly induce him to will or nill one thing rather than another.


God is a being whose will acknowledges no cause; neither is it for us to prescribe rules to his sovereign pleasure, or call him to account for what he does. He has neither superior nor equal; and his will is the rule of all things. He did not will such and such things because they were, in themselves, right, and he was bound to will them; but, therefore, equitable and right, because he wills them.


Whatever man does he does necessarily, though not with any sensible compulsion; and we can only do what God, from eternity, willed and foreknew we should.


That man fell in consequence of the divine decree. we prove thus …. Surely, if God had not willed the fall, he could, and no doubt would, have prevented it. But he did not prevent it: ergo, he willed it. And if he willed it, he certainly decreed it; for the decree is nothing else but the seal and ratification of his will. He does nothing but what he decreed, and he decreed nothing which he did not will; and both will and decree are absolutely eternal, though the execution of them both be in time.


Now, it is self-evident that if he [God] knows all things beforehand, he either doth approve of them, or he doth not approve of them; that is, he either is willing they should be, or he is not willing they should be. But to will that they should be is to decree them.


The Arminians ridicule the distinctions between the secret and revealed will of, or more properly expressed, between the decree and law of God, because we say he may decree one thing and command another. However, if they will call this a contradiction of wills, we know that there is such a thing; so that it is the greatest absurdity to dispute about it. We know that God willed that Pharaoh’s heart should be hardened, and yet that the hardness of his heart was sin.


All the actions of men, even those which the Scripture holds forth to our abhorrence, are represented as being comprehended in the great plan of divine providence. I do not mean merely that all the actions of men are foreseen by God–if this the predictions in Scripture offer evidence which even the Arminians admit to be incontrovertible–but I mean that the actions of men are foreseen by God, not as events independent of his will, but as originating in his determination and fulfilling his purpose.


Any number almost of similar quotations might be added to the list, but it is unnecessary: all the standard Calvinistic authors since the days of Augustine, some with greater and others with less caution, express themselves upon this point in about the same manner. We cannot say so much for their uniformity when it comes to the details of explanation and defense–here, indeed, truth constrains us to say, we find what appears to our mind great confusion, perplexity, and contradiction arising out of the difficulties of the doctrine; and if we should be unfortunate in not precisely apprehending it, I hope it will not be ascribed to willful blindness, seeing that its friends differ so much in regard to it.


If I understand the meaning of the above quotations at all –and the language is so plain and unambiguous that it would certainly be difficult to misunderstand, particularly when taken in connection with other parts of the Calvinistic system–it may thus be summed up:


(1.) Whatsoever comes to pass in time was decreed unconditionally and unalterably before.


(2.) Whatsoever comes to pass in time, comes to pass because it was decreed before time.


(3.) Nothing can be, but what was decreed; and what was decreed cannot fail to be; and it cannot fail to be, because decreed.


Having defined what we understood to be the doctrine of decrees as held by Presbyterians–a definition derived from their own Confession of Faith, and numerous Calvinistic authors of great respectability and authority–I shall now proceed to allege objections thereto.


  1. And, first, I object: it renders the conclusion inevitable that God is the author of sin. I employ the term author in the sense of originator or cause.


Do not, I pray you, turn away from this point. I know it has been often urged. I know you have as steadily denied it. I know, indeed, that you have expressly incorporated your protest in the article of faith itself. “God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; [and now your disclaimer] yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creature.” But this disclaimer by no means relieves my embarrassment; it greatly increases it by placing you in the attitude, to my mind, of believing a palpable contradiction–namely, that God did cause all things, sin included, yet in such a way that he did not cause sin. It is as though you should say, Lycurgus made all the laws of Sparta, yet in such a way that there were many laws of Sparta which Lycurgus did not make. But supposing that the absurdity does not strike your mind with the same force it does mine–or of course you could not embrace it–I shall more particularly present the reasons; and perhaps you can assist me in my conclusions.


I reason thus, and the process is exceedingly brief and simple: “God decreed whatsoever comes to pass;” but sin comes to pass. Therefore, God decreed sin. “What God decrees must necessarily come to pass;” but he decreed sin. Therefore, sin necessarily comes to pass. “God’s decree is the necessity of things;” but sin is something. Therefore, God’s decree is the necessity or necessitating cause of sin. “God’s decree, being from eternity, precedes all things, and whatever is in time results from God’s decree as its cause;” but sin is in time. Therefore, sin results from God’s decree as its cause.


Let me particularize now. The doctrine is that God decreed from eternity whatsoever comes to pass in time, and that according to his own good pleasure–every particular thing, event, and act. I must insist, according to this, that he decreed the sin of every sinful man–nay each particular sin of each particular man, and all the sins of all men, long before the human race was created. For if there be any sin which was not decreed, then something has come to pass in time which was not decreed from eternity: but then your system is in error, when it says whatsoever comes to pass in time was decreed from eternity.


Do men murder, rob, blaspheme, commit adultery, incest, idolatry? It was so decreed before they were born. They could no more avoid it than they could resist the fiat of Omnipotence, or subvert the purpose of the Almighty. Indeed, the decree to create them was connected with a decree that when, and as certainly as, created, they should commit these sins, and their creation was in order to their sins.


Shall I be told that, though all things come to pass by decree, yet that the decree is not the cause of their occurrence–not the efficient reason why they occur? Then I desire to know precisely what Calvinists mean by the terms decree, predestinate, foreordains whether anything can or could possibly come to pass without being decreed–whether, after being decreed, anything can fail to come to pass–whether decree proceeds upon foreknowledge that certain things will come to pass and are, therefore, decreed simply as certain because foreknown–whether, in a word, there is any connection between God’s decree and the thing decreed, and what that connection is. I understand from the most respectable Calvinistic authorities already quoted, that the decree of God and the event decreed stand related as cause and effect–that the event necessarily answers the decree–that the whole universe, indeed, including all beings, events, and acts, arises out of the decree or predetermination of God. This being the case, it will be perceived, inevitably, by the simplest process of reasoning, that sin results as an effect from the divine decree as its cause.


Shall I be told that, though God by his decree is the cause of sinful acts, yet he causes not the sin of the act? This seems to be the view of the expositor of the Confession. He says, “The decree of God is either effective or permissive.” He does not tell us in what sense he employs the term permissive–a point I should like to have explained–but he proceeds to tell what his permissive decree respects. “His effective decree respects all the good that comes to pass–his permissive decree all the evil that is in sinful actions.” Now observe: “We must distinguish between actions purely as such, and the sinfulness of the actions. The decree of God is effective (causal) with respect to the action itself, abstractly considered; it is permissive with respect to the sinfulness of the act as a moral evil.” The same sentiment I find in various other authors; and, indeed, I find it a common and favorite mode of explanation. It is thus stated by Hermin Witsius, a learned German, in an elaborate defense of his favorite tenets:


As these things are universally true, they may be applied to those free actions of rational creatures in which there is a moral evil inherent, namely, that creatures may be determined to their actions by the efficacious influence of God, so far as they are actions according to their physical entity.


What am I to understand by all this? There is a discrimination between the sinful act and the sin of the act. This is correct: an act and its sinfulness are certainly distinct. Sin resides in the intention, not in the act. A man ruins his friend, or murders his father: the question of his guilt turns upon his intention. Well, then, is this the meaning of our Calvinistic brethren, that, though God’s decree is the efficient cause of the sinful act as an act, it is not the cause of its sin, for the sin is in the sinner’s intention in committing it? But, then, a question arises right here. Was not the sinner’s intention decreed, also, as well as the act? If you answer, “No,” then here is something which comes to pass in time which was not decreed before time. If you answer, “Yes,” and the sin was in the intention, then God, who was the author of the intention, was the author of the sin; for the sin and the intention are the same.


Again: did not God decree that certain acts, if committed with certain intentions, should be sinful? But did he not also decree that those very acts and intentions should exist? If so, is he not the author of the sin, both with respect to the act and intention? If not, is not here something coming to pass in time which was not decreed before time? There may be some way of escape from this difficulty. I cannot myself perceive it, and must wait patiently for further light.


And again: is not intention an essential part of a moral act? Can there be a moral act without intention as an element of it? If not, then God did not decree moral acts, or he decreed the intention with all else that constitutes them moral acts. If he did not decree all moral acts, then here is a class of acts which he did not decree; and so your doctrine is in error when it asserts that he decreed all things. But if he did decree all moral acts, then he decreed all sins, without exception, and as sins, essentially with all that constitutes their sin–the sin itself.


Still again: am I told that God is not the author of sin, because he cannot sin–he is under no law, and, therefore, he cannot transgress? Is this the idea? I believe some learned Calvinists take this course to escape the difficulty. If this means anything, it must mean to discriminate between God’s proper, personal acts, and those acts which he causes other beings to put forth. In regard to the first, it is not pretended that God breaks the law personally, by himself personally transgressing it; but this is meant, God is the author of sin in this sense:


(1.) He makes a law, the transgression of which is sin.


(2.) He places creatures under the law.


(3.) He impels them to those acts of transgression which are sinful. Thus he causes sin by causing his creatures to transgress the law under which they were placed. The act of transgression, in this case, is God’s own proper, though not personal, act; and if there be any sin, he is not only the author of the sin, but the sinner himself. This is so palpable I hesitate to dwell upon it, lest it might seem an imputation upon the good sense of my renders.


Will you be so kind then, dear sir, as to tell me how you escape the conclusion to which I am thus impelled–that God is, in the true and proper sense, the author of sin?


All Calvinistic authors with whose writings I am conversant perceive and admit the liability of their scheme to this objection and do their utmost to escape it; and, I will add, they certainly display great genius and skill in contending with the difficulty, and do as much to make error seem like the truth as the most gifted intellects can do.


The argument may be summed up thus: Whatsoever comes to pass in time was unconditionally and unalterably decreed before time. But sin comes to pass in time; therefore, sin was unconditionally–and of course purely of the pleasure of God and for its own sake–and unalterably decreed before time. God’s decrees are the cause of all things that come to pass in time; but sin comes to pass in time. Therefore, God’s decrees are the cause of sin.


What results from a decree as a necessary sequence, results from the author of the decree. But sin results from the decree of God as a necessary sequence; therefore, sin results from himself.


According to this dogma, no man ever did or ever can do anything but what it was ordained he should do from eternity; to avoid which is as impossible as to overthrow the decree of God, and which, if possible, would be rebellion against God, punishable with death. When I sin, I am instrumentally doing what God chose should be done before I was born. The thing I do was his choice, and he made me for no other purpose but to accomplish it–decreed it for me, and me for it.


From the foregoing argument I can conceive of no escape, unless it be by one of the following methods:


(1.) A denial of the premise, “God decrees whatsoever comes to pass.” Will Dr. Rice deny?


(2.) A denial that God’s decree necessarily procures the thing decreed. Will Dr. Rice deny?


(3.) A denial that God is author of that which is solely procured by his decree. Will Dr. Rice deny?


For it is undeniable; no skill can escape the conclusion. If whatever comes to pass was decreed beforehand, and if this preceding decree was the sole necessitating cause of things so decreed, then the author of the decree is the author of all things included therein. And as all things that occur in time are included in the decree and caused by it, so sin, which occurs in time, was included in and caused by the decree. It is by a process of reasoning of the foregoing description that we are impelled to the conclusion that the Calvinistic system renders God the author of sin. If we have misunderstood the system, will the Doctor point out in what particular? If our reasoning is illogical or unfair, will he show us in that respect?


I am only conscious of a desire to ascertain the truth, and would not, if I could, resort to unfairness to criminate the system I oppose. And if I were capable of so unchristian a disposition, I certainly could not do it successfully, observed as I am. May the great Head of the Church himself give us light and lead us into the unity of the faith and the truth, as it is in Jesus!


  1. I object to the doctrine of decrees, as held by Calvinists, in the second place because it is inconsistent with and destructive to the free agency of man.


The opposers of Messrs. Wesley and Fletcher violently assailed them on this subject. Mr. Southey informs us in his Life of Wesley that the Calvinists called the doctrine of free-will “a cursed doctrine”–“the most God-dishonoring and soul-destroying doctrine”–“one of the prominent features of the beast”–“the enemy of God”–“the offspring of the wicked one”–“the insolent brat of hell.”


But if they had nowhere admitted it, but in all cases strongly denied it, as I suppose you do, still the difficulty would remain; for it grows out of your doctrines inevitably, and is in no sense affected by your admissions or denials. It is to no purpose that you tell me, “God from eternity unconditionally and unalterably decreed whatsoever comes to pass, yet so as thereby violence is not offered to the will of the creature,” because this again strikes my mind only in the light of a contradiction. It is as though you told me God determined what each distinct volition should necessarily be, yet in such a sense that any volition might have been different from what it is–it is necessarily what it is, it is not necessarily what it is.


But, not to consume your time with what may be considered my own representations of your views upon this point, let me refer to authorities high in your esteem and of unquestionable information.


Neither does God only excite and predetermine the will of men to vicious actions, so far as they are actions, but he likewise so excites it, that it is not possible but thus acted upon, it shall act.


Moreover, as a second cause cannot act unless acted upon and previously moved to act by the predetermining influence of the first, so, in like manner, that influence of the first cause is so efficacious as that, supposing it, the second cause cannot but act.


It would certainly be very inexcusable to misunderstand these quotations, so clearly and definitely expressed as they are; and scarcely less inexcusable not to admire the sturdy candor of their learned author in so plainly delivering himself upon such a point.


Second causes, among which he reckons the human will, cannot act unless and only as acted upon–when acted upon, they must act. This was saying much; but, to let us know that he was fully apprised of the consequences, he goes still further. Not only does God excite the will of men to vicious actions, but, thus excited, it is not possible it shall fail to act–it is under inexorable necessity.


In the Old and New Divinity Compared, I read,


For if God does not possess such absolute control over his creatures that he can govern them according to his pleasure, how could he have decreed anything unconditionally concerning them, since it might happen that, in the exercise of their free agency, they would act contrary to the divine purpose?


If this paragraph means anything, it plainly means that unconditional decrees and free agency are irreconcilable; and as all things are unconditionally decreed, according to the system, there can, of course, be no free agency.


In the trial of Dr. Beecher, Dr. Beecher accuses Dr. Wilson as follows: “Dr. Wilson has made a distinct avowal that free agency and moral obligation to obey law do not include any ability of any kind.” To which Dr. Wilson replied directly in so many words, “With respect to fallen man I do!” Says Dr. Wilson,


Now let us look at the doctrine of the Confession with this principle in view. that the state of the man determines the will. The will is always at liberty: choice is an effect always, and not a cause: It is always produced freely. There is no such thing as bound will.


Hence. all do what is good or evil voluntarily, in view of a motive, and according to the state of mind in which they are.


Take man in a state of innocence. God made him upright in his own image; his choice is free, and he chooses what is right, but not from any power in the will. The will, as I have said, has no power to operate on anything but the body. His uprightness was in the right state of the affections and the luminous state of the understanding–in the correct state of the memory and in his entire moral rectitude in the divine image. His will was free to do good while no temptation was presented to it. He had no motive but his accountableness to God and his love to God.


But now look at him in another state–the state of temptation. Motives are now presented to him by the arch tempter, but not to his will at all; they are presented to his understanding and appetites–to his taste for beauty. The fruit is pleasant to the eye; and what was the effect? The will was not trapped in any other way than this: the temptation addressed to these powers was so strong, that it overcame the dictates of judgment, and the man chose wrong. Volition moves the body; the mind moves the will; and the mind is is moved by that without, which is adapted to its constitution.


Now who moved that without and made the constitution?


The foregoing is the language of Dr. Wilson, who for forty years occupied the First Presbyterian Church in this city, and during his long life was a prominent man in the church of the west: certainly for ability and opportunity inferior to none of his school and, therefore, as reliable an exponent as any other. But now observe his honest and candid admission on an occasion when, of all others, he would be most accurate, and on a point where he would be most critically prepared: “Free agency and moral obligation to obey law [with respect to fallen man] do not include any ability of any kind!” According to this, free agency, as held by Calvinists, does not include ability of any kind. A man is a free agent though he have no power at all! He is also responsible to obey law though he have no ability of any kind to do so!


But he more fully unfolds his view as above, and no one can read the quotation, it seems to me, without sympathizing with the sincere and able author in the manifest confusion and self-contradictions in which he involves himself. “The will is always at liberty;” yet its choice is always caused by a foreign agent! “When the mind chooses it always chooses freely;” yet it has no kind of ability whatever, but is ruled by the motives in every case! “There is no such thing as bound will;” but it is always an effect and not a cause! Observe, further, his philosophy of the will. Dr. Wilson carries back beyond or behind the fall. Of man in innocence he says, “His will was free to do good while no temptation was presented to it;” but what is implied in this? When temptation came, the will was not free to do good, but bound to do evil or to yield! This, indeed, he does not leave us to infer, but expressly states that the temptation presented to the first pair was such that it overcame by its strength the mind “the mind moves the will and was itself moved by that without;” and thus man fell under the force of a temptation which he had no power to resist. He fell, therefore, when under the circumstances he had no power to stand! And yet he was free in doing what he had no power to avoid!


The expositor of the Confession, in his notes on the article respecting the will, holds this language:


According to Calvinists, the liberty of a moral agent consists in the power of acting according to his choice; and those actions are free which are performed without external compulsion–physical compulsion–in consequence of the determination of his own mind. The necessity of man’s willing and acting, according to his apprehension and disposition, is in their opinion fully consistent with the highest liberty, which can belong to a rational nature …. As nothing can ever come to pass without a cause, the acts of the will are never without necessity–understanding by necessity an infallible connection with something foregoing.


This I understand to be the doctrine of all Calvinists respecting the will of man, as well before as since the fall; it is often expressed in stronger language.


Now, this view of the will utterly discards this idea of liberty–power to choose either of two alternatives. Here is the real point of difference between us and them: with them liberty is necessity to choose one way according to the motive, but not power to make an opposite choice. With us it is a power to choose either of the various alternatives presented to the mind. Now, upon their doctrine of the will, I base an argument that its decisions are necessitated and not free and, hence, that it is absurd for a Calvinist to contend for freedom. Take a man in a state of innocence for we desire to give the advocates of the system the most favorable opportunity to defend themselves. The question is, “Was man capacitated with freedom to stand or fall in the circumstances?” And, according to the Calvinian system, the answer must be, “He was not; for he was so constituted that he must yield to the prevailing disposition or strongest motive. He could not avoid this–it was his nature. He had no control of these motives, and when they came upon him, he as necessarily was moved by them as the needle is moved to the pole. It matters not that he chose to move with the influence; for the want of liberty and the fact of necessity were found in the circumstance, that he had no control of his choice. He made his choice necessarily.”


Now I ask Dr. Rice, “What does control the choice?” He must answer, “Whatever goes to constitute the prevailing motive.” But then I ask who controls and governs these motives. And he must answer that all things are arranged and governed by God himself and controls the motives, the motives control the man. He sins, necessitated by the motive. And, now, where do we find the first cause? Not in the choice, for it was an effect. Not in the motives, for they were under the government and control of God. Here, then, we trace the operations of man’s will back to God, not as permitted, but procured. If the Calvinists can trace it beyond God, they may free their system from making God the first cause of sin!


Thomas Aquinas, quoted with approval by Witsius, says,


It is essential to the first principle that it can act without the assistance and influence of a prior agent; so that, if the human will could produce any action of which God was not author, the human will would have the nature of a first principle …. Nor does God only concur with the actions of second causes when they act, but, also, influences the causes themselves to act.


Calvinists contend that, as nothing can ever come to pass without a cause, the acts of the will are never contingent or without necessity–understanding by necessity, a necessity of consequence, or an infallible connection with something foregoing.


This is plain language. The will never acts but as necessitates by a foregoing cause, infallibly producing the act. That foregoing cause was decreed by the divine Being to produce that precise volition; and it produced it with all the certainty of a necessary effect. That is, the will is free to act in agreement with the irresistible bias of a necessitating cause.


This is the same scheme, if I understand them, taught by Mr. Edwards and his numerous admirers in their fruitless effort to reconcile freedom and necessity. “The plain and obvious meaning of the words freedom and liberty,” says Edwards, “is power, opportunity, or advantage that anyone has to do as he pleases.” But he also teaches us that the volition is necessary. His will or particular choice, whatever it may be, is necessarily determined by motive, and the motive is fixed by decree so that, though a man do as he pleases, he is not free, because he cannot please to do otherwise and, by necessity as stern as the most absolute compulsion, chooses as he does.


This doctrine is identical with fatalism in its worst form. All that fatalism ever has maintained or now maintains is that men, by a power which they cannot control or resist, are placed in circumstances in which they cannot but pursue the course of conduct which they actually are pursuing. This doctrine never has assumed that in the necessitarian sense men cannot do as they please. All that it maintains is that they cannot but please to do as they do.


It is altogether futile, then, to talk about free agency under such a constitution. The very spring of motion to the whole intellectual machinery is under the influence of a secret, invincible power. And it must move as that power directs, for it is the hand of Omnipotence that urges it on. He can act as he wills, it is true; but the whole responsibility consists in the volition, and this is the result of God’s propelling power. He wills as he is made to will. He chooses as he must choose; for the immutable decree of Jehovah is upon him.


And can a man, upon the known principles of responsibility, be accountable for such a volition? It is argued, I know, that man is responsible because he feels that he acts freely, and that he might have done otherwise. To this I reply that this is a good argument on our principle to prove that men are free; but on the Calvinistic ground, it only proves that God hath deceived us. He has made us feel that we might do otherwise, but he knows we cannot–he has determined we shall not so that in fact this argument makes the system more objectionable. While it does not change the facts in the case, it attributes deception to the Almighty. It is logically true, therefore, from this doctrine that man is not a free agent and, therefore, not responsible.


Mr. Dick says,


A man chooses what appears to be good and he chooses it necessarily, in this sense, that he could not do otherwise. The object of every volition is to please himself; and to suppose a man to have any other object, that is, to will anything that does not please him in itself or in its circumstances, is absurd–it is to suppose him to will and not to will at the same time. He is perfectly voluntary. in his choice; but his willingness is the consequence of the view which his mind takes of the object presented to it or of his prevailing disposition.


Those actions are free which are the effect of volition. In whatever manner the state of mind which gave rise to the volition has been produced, the liberty of the agent is neither greater nor less. It is the will alone which is to be considered, and not the means by which it has been determined. If God foreordained certain actions and placed men in such circumstances that the actions would certainly take place. agreeably to the laws of the mind, men are, nevertheless, moral agents because they act voluntarily and are responsible for the actions which consent has made their own. liberty does not consist in the power of acting or not acting, but in acting from choice. The choice is determined by something in the mind itself or by something external influencing the mind; but whatever is the cause, the choice makes the action free and the agent accountable.


If this definition of liberty be admitted, you will perceive that it is possible to reconcile the freedom of the will with absolute decrees; but we have not got rid of every difficulty. By this theory, human actions appear to be as necessary as the motions of matter, according to the laws of gravitation and attraction; and man seems to be a machine, conscious of his movements and consenting to them, but impelled by something different from himself.


This is the deplorable conclusion to which Mr. Dick himself comes. And his only effort to extricate himself is this: “Upon such a subject no man should be ashamed to acknowledge his ignorance.” Several things are remarkable in this paragraph.


(1.) Liberty and necessity are the same thing.


(2.) Man is accountable for his actions, though he is a machine and is under a necessity, as that of matter to obey gravitation.


The honesty of the reasoner must be admired while his sophistry is a matter of marvel.


Of the same import is the following, which I quote from an author admired more than any other, perhaps, as the present time–Dr. Chalmers:


Every step of every individual character receives as determinate a character from the hand of God as every mile of a planet’s orbit, or every gust of wind, or every wave of the sea, or every particle of flying dust, or every rivulet of flowing water. This power of God knows no exceptions; it is absolute and unlimited. And while it embraces the vast, it carries its restless influences to all the minute and unnoticed diversities of existence. It reigns and operates through all the secrecies of the inner man. It gives birth to every purpose; it gives impulse to every desire; it gives shape and color to every conception; it wields an entire ascendency over every attribute of the mind; and the will, and the fancy, and the understanding, with all the countless variety of their hidden and fugitive operations, are submitted to it. It gives movement and direction through every point of our pilgrimage. At no moment of time does it abandon us. It follows us to the hour of death, and it carries us to our place and to our everlasting destiny in the regions beyond it!


I confess I cannot conceive of a stronger assertion of fatalism, with respect to man and things, than is contained in the foregoing remarkable quotations. All mental and physical processes from the first link to the end of the chain are connected together in the relation of cause and effect.


No man can choose differently from what he does; and as he acts from his volitions, he cannot act differently from what he does–it is all fixed by inexorable necessity. Is such a being free? Is this the liberty of man? If this be moderate Calvinism, what must it be in the ultra, high-toned type?


If anything further should be esteemed necessary upon this point, a few selections from Dr. Emmons, a distinguished divine of New England and author of an elaborate work on theology, may supply the demand. He says,


Since the Scriptures ascribe all the actions of men to God, as well as to themselves. we may justly conclude that the divine agency is as much concerned in their bad as their good actions. Many are disposed to make a distinction here and to ascribe only the good actions of men to the divine agency, while they ascribe their bad ones to the divine permission. But there appears no ground for this distinction in Scripture or reason. Men are no more capable of acting independently of God in one instance than another. If they need any kind or degree of divine agency in doing good, they need precisely the same kind and degree of divine agency in doing evil.


But there was no possible way in which he could dispose them to act right or wrong, but only by producing right or wrong volitions in their hearts. And if he produced their bad as well as good volitions, then his agency was concerned in precisely the same manner in their wrong as in their right actions. His agency in making them act necessarily connects his agency and theirs together and lays a solid foundation for ascribing their actions either to him, or them, or to both.


But, since mind cannot act any more than matter can move without a divine agency, it is absurd to suppose that men can be left to the freedom of their own will to act or not to act independently of divine influence. There must, therefore, be the exercise of divine agency in every human action.


By this invisible agency upon the minds, he governs all their views, all their thoughts, all their determinations, and all their volitions, just as he pleases and just according to his secret will, which they neither know beforehand, nor can resist, evade, or frustrate.


Thus we prove upon the system both that it makes God the author of sin, and destroys the free agency of man.


These quotations show what Calvinists themselves teach upon the subject in dispute. They are not our deductions, but their own propositions–not our misrepresentations of their views, but their own carefully-studied and well-considered declarations. They are precisely the inferences we should have made from the premise work of their system; but they have saved us the trouble and responsibility by candidly acknowledging themselves.


And now the argument stands thus: Man can only will as he is moved by divine agency. And when moved by divine agency, he cannot but will. So, therefore, when man wills it is not a free, but a necessitated act. What a man wills, he wills not freely, but he wills because another, by invisible power, irresistibly compels him to will. It is not his own act, but it is an act of which he is made the passive subject by another operating through him, and a power entirely separate from himself.


He chooses as he does as necessarily as matter yields to the law of gravitation, and he is no more free in his choice than the earth is in its revolutions. The choice he makes is no more his free act than the tendency of the needle to the pole is its free act. It makes no difference that choice is supposed in one case and not in the other, because choice is an effect of a cause entirely out of the man and independent of him, and so, of course, cannot be his act.


Doctor, I wish you would help me here. My difficulty, as you will perceive, is at this point, to know how a man is free in willing when at the same time his particular exercise of will is an effect of which he is the coerced instrument. Will you tell me how this is?


  1. I object to the doctrine in the third place because it destroys the accountability, and hence the well-grounded apprehension, of our Calvinistic brethren at the imputation that their doctrine is destructive to freedom of agency.


Says Dr. Fisk,


To conceive of beings deserving praise or blame for volitions or actions which occurred under circumstances over which they had no control, and under which no other volitions or actions were possible, and in which these could not but happen is an absolute impossibility. To conceive them under obligation to have given existence under such circumstances to different consequents is equally impossible. It is to suppose an agent under obligation to perform an absolute and intrinsic impossibility. Let any individual conceive of beings placed by divine Providence in circumstances in which but one act or series of acts of will can arise, and these cannot but arise–let him then attempt to conceive of these creatures as under obligations, in the same circumstances over which they have no control, to give existence to different and opposite acts and as deserving of punishment for not doing so. He will find it impossible to pass such a judgment–human intelligence is incapable of affirming such contradictions.


Thus, by sapping the foundations of free-agency, it at the same time destroys human accountability, releases man from all obligation, and renders God the only responsible being in the universe.


I would not press illegitimate results upon your system, to give you the trouble of examining and the unpleasant task of refuting and correcting them; but these which I present strike me as so plain and inevitable and of such force, that you must excuse me for urging them upon your notice. This point–how am I to escape it?


You tell me that whatever I do during my whole existence comes to pass by a decree of God–which decree is the necessitating cause of things. Now, a question here: Am I accountable for doing what, by decree, I am compelled to do? Or is the author of the decree accountable? That is, is the agent or instrument responsible? It will not do, Doctor, to tell me that, though the decree must be complied with, yet that I comply freely inasmuch as I of choice do the thing decreed; because you have told me before that my choice is also wrought in me, directly or indirectly, by the same great Being whose decree binds me–I am not the author of the choice, but the passive instrument of it. Am I accountable when I do nothing but what I am caused to do by omnipotent agency exerted upon me?


Do I sin against God when I make the very choice which he works in me, when I do the act which that choice dictates? And, when I could not have made another choice or performed another act to save the universe, must I be damned forever for doing a thing I could not help but do? And must I thus be damned by the very being who made me and necessitated the act for which he thus destroys me? I desire a plain answer upon these points. You cannot fail to perceive where my difficulties lie with respect to your system; and you can easily show either how they do not bear on the system, or how I may escape the inference, or that the inference is not objectionable.


If Dr. Rice denies that God decreed the existence of sin, then he abandons and denies his Confession which declares that “God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own free-will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass.” If he denies that the decree is the efficient cause of the thing decreed, he antagonizes various authors quoted in the commencement of this chapter, and particularly Calvin who says with Augustine, “The decree of God is the necessity or necessitating cause of things.” And, in that case, we hope the Doctor will explain to us what he means by decree–what relation it has to the thing decreed. For the arguments sustaining this objection against the Calvinistic system, I refer Dr. Rice to my preceding remarks, to which I desire him to give a careful consideration, and then, to point out to me wherein they fail to sustain the conclusion. He admits equally with myself, if the objection is made good, his system is false; for he alleges precisely the same objection against another system as an insuperable difficulty, as an entirely sufficient reason for discarding it as utterly false. Now, either he and I are at fault in employing the objection against Universalism, or, if sustained against Dr. Rice’s system, he is equally bound with myself to discard the system so embarrassed; and if not sustained, he will, by so much as he loves truth and deprecates error, point out in what respect it fails.


It will not answer to tell me these things have been often explained, nor yet to deny or refer to antagonistic professions and disclaimers–the thing we demand is to have it pointed out how the system can escape the logical consequences we have produced against it. If our logic is good, the system is bad; if the system is good, our logic is bad. It is a plain point, will the Doctor make his election?


Dr. Rice alleges as an objection to Universalism that its advocates “are forced to deny the free agency of man and to maintain that all his actions are necessary.” In proof that this is the case, he quotes from Mr. Ballou, “Man is dependent in all his volitions, and moved by necessity” This he esteems a sufficient objection against Universalism, and I agree with him. But I charge Calvinism with including precisely the same doctrine, and refer for the proof of this charge to the evidence already adduced. Will Dr. Rice extricate his system?


This same objection he urges against phrenology, in his work upon that subject. He says this system “denies his [man’s] free moral agency, and makes him alike incapable of virtue or vice.” This objection is argued at length, and insisted upon as an insuperable difficulty. He is right. But I charge precisely the same difficulty, upon his system–both that it “denies free moral agency,” and destroys the distinction between “vice and virtue.” He says of man in the light of this system, “He is under a physical necessity to act in accordance with the promptings of his cerebral organization, and is incapable of either virtue or vice.” Now I charge his system with placing man under a necessity, as stern as that which phrenology teaches, and, consequently, as certainly destroying both his agency and accountability. I have been astonished to find that free agency is a favorite doctrine with Dr. Rice; and I now ask him to reconcile it with his system. And if it cannot be done, admit either that he believes a palpable contradiction, or set aside his system or this doctrine.


  1. By destroying the agency and accountability of man, I charge the system further with destroying the moral character of human acts and volitions–with rendering the terms vice and virtue, good and bad as conveying the idea of moral quality–not predicable of man. If the system be true, man is no more a moral being. Do what he may, he is not vicious; he is incapable to be virtuous; he never sins–he cannot; nor the opposite.


This is so plain to my own mind that I do not see how it can escape your observation. To argue it would almost be a reflection upon my readers. It would be to attempt to produce conviction by argument of a truth which I firmly believe no human mind can deny, namely, that a person cannot be worthy of praise or blame for an act over which he has not and never had, any control whatever. Now sir, I do not believe that any human intelligence can affirm such a proposition. Morality supposes agency–the system, by inevitable deduction, denies it; and the two fall together. A greater absurdity can scarcely be imagined than to affirm a man to be virtuous for an act, the choice and performance of which were coerced upon him–the contrary of which he could not have performed any more than he could usurp the place of the Almighty, and the thing itself he performed only as a passive instrument, operated upon and compelled by Omnipotence. Vice and virtue, which can only be predicated of the free original cause, cannot be affirmed of man; but all vice and all virtue, if there be any such thing according to the system, have God as their centre, or that fate which the system, as we shall show in due time, more than intimates is above Jehovah.


I find in casting my eye over Dr. Rice’s discussion with Mr. Pingree, several things bearing directly on the points to which I have invited his attention.


His fifth article against Universalism is, “That it makes God the author or cause of all the sin in the world.” He alleges this is a sufficient reason for discarding the system. In this I perfectly agree with him. I also admit that he sustains the objection with unanswerable arguments against Universalism. But now I object precisely the same thing to Dr. Rice’s system. I think I have sustained the objection with unanswerable arguments. Will the Doctor show me wherein, if at all, my argument is at fault? And, if not at fault, will he show why he allows the objection to be of sufficient force to set aside one system, and not another equally involved?


The proof he adduces, that Universalism renders God the author of sin, is thus stated: “Universalism maintains that sin proceeds from physical causes, inherent in the human constitution as it came from the hand of God.” This Dr. Rice denounces as “a revolting and blasphemous doctrine.” But why so? Why revolting and blasphemous? Simply, because it renders God the author of sin–in this sense, that sin proceeds from physical causes inherent in the human constitution, which constitution God made.


Now, I ask Dr. Rice, does not he maintain that God as absolutely created or caused sin as the system he discards? That system attributes the authorship of sin to God by asserting that sin inheres in the nature of man; and created the nature, and so caused sin. Dr. Rice maintains that God actually decreed the existence of sin, and that his decree was the cause of its existence- so much so, that it could not but be, being decreed, and could not have been without being decreed.


Dr. Rice says,


One of the clearest truths in mental philosophy is that man is a free moral agent, and, therefore, an accountable being. It is a truth to which the consciousness of every individual bears testimony the most unequivocal.


With this sentiment I fully accord; but I charge upon Dr. Rice that he has embraced a system which denies this clearest and most important of truths to which human consciousness bears unequivocal testimony; and my reason for so charging his system have been heretofore presented. Will he show me how to escape the force of these reasons?


I beg the Doctor to believe me sincere in asking for light upon these points. I find him discarding two systems of opinions for the reasons that they make God the author of sin and that they are inconsistent with the free agency and accountability of man. These he esteems sufficient reasons for rejecting; so do I. But now I find that he, after all, embraces a system which I firmly believe is beset with the same difficulties; my reasons for this belief are already given. If I am right in my view of his system, he is guilty of inexcusable inconsistency; if I am wrong, in error, my reasonings are incorrect. And now I ask the Doctor to set me right.


  1. I object further: if this doctrine be true, at the final judgment the conscience and intelligence of the universe will and must be on the side of the condemned.


Suppose that when the conduct of the wicked shall be revealed in that day, another fact shall stand out with equal conspicuousness, namely, that God himself hath placed these beings where but one course of conduct was possible to them, and that course they could not but pursue; and that, for having pursued this course–the only one possible–they are now to be punished with everlasting destruction, from the presence of God and the glory of his power. Must not the intelligence of the universe pronounce such sentence unjust? Heaven and hell would equally revolt at it and all rational beings conspire to execrate the almighty monster capable of such a procedure. Convince the universe that such is the character and will ultimately be the conduct of God, and he can no more be worshipped but with hypocrisy, or even contemplated but with dread, detestation, and abhorrence. I appeal to the consciousness of man–to the philosophy of our nature–to all known processes of thought and feeling–if such would not necessarily be the verdict of humanity. They that enter into heaven and they that depart to hell from a judgment-seat where such a principle determines destiny must go bearing the same sentiment, the same feeling of disgust and horror of the gigantic tyranny ruling over them. Hell would be a refuge from the presence of such a being–its woes a respite from the deeper alarms of his hatred and dreaded intercourse.


In the name of Christianity, I protest against a principle involving such blasphemy. It is impossible that the ever-blessed God should be remotely liable by anything he has done, by anything discoverable in his works, by any revelations he has made either of his character or plans, to such an imputation. Thou glorious Ruler of the universe, what blasphemy of thy blessed name can equal this for enormity, to charge that for the glory of thy sovereignty and to manifest thy power, thou art now damning millions of helpless creatures in hell forever for no cause but doing precisely what thou didst compel them to do, and what they could not possibly avoid!


  1. Nay, more: I charge the doctrine not only with putting a plea in the sinner’s mouth at the day of judgment, but also with furnishing him with a plea when he is brought before earthly courts to answer for his crimes. These, indeed—earthly courts–if Calvinism is true, are only lesser parts of the stupendous economy of tyranny. What justice is there in any power on earth, what right to try, condemn, and punish men for any of their acts if they could not, by any possibility, avoid them–if they were impelled thereto by almighty fate? You do not condemn the gun for shooting the man, the avalanche for burying the city, the falling tree for crushing the traveler; but, according to Calvinism in Mr. Dick’s own language, man is as merely passive in the hands of over-ruling power. Why punish him for murder, for arson, or any grade of crime? He is the author of no choice, the sovereign of no act; he is but the instrument of an invisible agent, moving as moved upon without power of resistance. He is the original in no movement of this life from the cradle to the grave. Why, in the name of humanity, punish him?


  1. I object to the system further as involving, by inevitable consequence, a most dreadful aspersion of the character of God. It gives me no pleasure to prefer such a charge as this against a system, many of whose advocates I dearly love and greatly admire; and I will say, much less does it give me pleasure to find so much evidence that the charge is well founded. But I do so, Doctor, that you may see how other minds view your system, and that you may disabuse them if in error.


(1.) The system holds, as I think has been clearly shown, that God is the sole, original, voluntary author of sin, that he chose its existence when as yet it did not exist, and decreed it when, but for his decree, it never could have been, thus declaring that he preferred some sin to universal holiness–if, indeed, his own decree was his choice–thus insulting the purity and holiness of God, making him not, indeed, the most holy, but the only unholy being in the universe, the cause and source of all impurity as he is the cause of all creatures.


(2.) It asperses the goodness and benevolence of God and invests him with all the attributes of sheer cruelty and maliciousness, because it holds that he made the universe as it is, and, for his own pleasure and glory plunged it himself into all the miseries, temporal and eternal, which it endures or is to endure. It will not do to tell me that these miseries are the just punishments of sins, for you told me he caused the sins; and if he caused them and damns the universe for them, it renders the cruelty more revolting.


(3.) It asperses the justice of God, for it tells me that God will destroy many of his creatures in hell forever with unimaginable torments for not performing absolute impossibilities and for doing acts which were utterly unavoidable–acts which he himself caused. What would be the difference between consigning innumerable beings into hell forever who had never put forth a wrong volition or performed a wrong action, and making them by omnipotent agency first perpetrate these wrongs, and then, upon this pretense, damn them, as supposed in the former case? Can this be just?


(4.) The system asperses the truthfulness and sincerity of God, making him to pretend to be of one mind, when he is precisely of an opposite–clothing him with all the loathsome proofs of trickery, and hypocrisy, and duplicity for the purpose of deceiving his hapless creatures as to his own character and the reasons of his conduct in respect to them. It arrays his secret and his revealed will in unavoidable and open conflict, the one in unmitigated opposition to the other. He commands one thing, and wills precisely another, enjoins upon certain creatures to do those things, which he not only knows they cannot do, but, also, what he does not will they should do—nay, what he wills they should not do. It puts in his mouth the language, “I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth,” when, in fact, they die for his pleasure–makes him to plead and remonstrate with them as if he would dissuade them from their sin and ruin, when in fact he is the very being who urges them irresistibly on to sin and ruin. He commands one thing and decrees precisely the contrary. He commands the sinner to repent, but decrees he shall not.


Well, now, when he commands the sinner to repent, either he wills that the sinner should obey and repent, or he does not. If he does not, then he commands the sinner to do what he does not will he should or he commands him to violate his will, which command, if the sinner were to obey, he would damn him forever for violating his will. But if he does not obey, he will damn him forever for violating his command. But, again, if the command indicates the will of God, so also does the decree, or it does not–if it does not, then God has decreed, or purposed, or willed that that should come to pass which he did not will should come to pass. But, if his decree is his will and his command is his will, and these are opposite the one to the other, then God has two opposing wills or a will in opposition to itself. His will is always done. And why then does he punish one and damn another when both alike and equally accomplished his will? What havoc such a theory makes with the character and government of God!


Is this so?


Is God at war with himself, or is he sporting and trifling with his creatures? A character so suspicious, to say the least of it, ought not without the most unequivocal evidence to be attributed to the adorable Jehovah. In his Word we are taught that “he is of one mind,” that “his ways are equal”–and who can doubt it? We are told, it is true, to relieve the difficulty, that this seeming contradiction is one of the mysteries of God’s incomprehensible nature. But it is not a seeming contradiction–it is a real one; not an insolvable mystery, but a palpable absurdity. God prohibits the sinful act–God procures the sinful act–God wills the salvation of the reprobate whom he has, from all eternity, irreversibly ordained to eternal death.


“What does this doctrine make of our heavenly Father? I shudder to follow it out into its legitimate bearings. It seems to me, a belief of it is enough to drive one to infidelity, to madness, and to death.” What can be said reproachful of God, of his holiness, of his justice, of his veracity, of his goodness, which this system does not warrant–which does not flow from it as an inevitable consequence? A resort of Atheism to anything would be a deliverance from such dire and deplorable conclusions. I rejoice to know that its advocates do not embrace them; but will they tell us how they do–how we may escape them? Until I am thus relieved, I must hold the system guilty, not only of absurdity, but of enormous blasphemy in fact, though not of purpose.


  1. “God, from all eternity, freely and unchangeably foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.” Now look at this: If true, then God foredetermined, purposed and appointed when as yet there was nothing, and when nothing ever could be without his decree, all the events, acts, volitions, and things of every kind, that ever have been from the foundation of the world or ever will be throughout eternity–all things, great and small, true and false, consistent and absurd, bad and good, pleasant and disgusting. No contradiction, but what he decreed it. He appointed in a way that the event must answer the decree, and so because decreed, that all the contradictory views extant in the world should be entertained just as they are–that there should be Atheists, pantheists, Deists, infidels, Jews, Mohammedans, Pagans, all grades of idolaters and errorists, all varieties of Christians, and sects of philosophy. And these cannot but be, because they were decreed from eternity. One man was to pray, another blaspheme, another lie, another rob, another murder, another steal, another commit arson, incest, adultery–one deceive, another be deceived, and all because it was decreed from eternity. All thoughts, all words, all desires, all purposes, all volitions, all acts from first to last were decreed by God, and in such a way that the event must answer the decree. Now, all this is true, or else Calvinism is false; for Calvinism says, “God, from eternity, freely and unchangeably decreed whatsoever comes to pass.” Everything was included in God’s plan and brought about by his decree. Doctor, do you believe this?


  1. I charge upon the system further that, if generally believed, it is calculated to obliterate the sense of obligation, as well as the theory and fact of it, and, hence, to generate recklessness and universal indifference. By removing the idea of the possibility of reformation, or, indeed, of any responsible control over the character and actions, it effectually neutralizes every motive thereto and causes the man to throw himself rashly upon the bosom of that stream of fate which he believes to be irresistible in its current and tendencies. Why shall a sinner seek to reform when he knows he cannot? Why shall he regret his course and conduct when he knows they were inevitable? Why shall he raise any questions about the future when he knows that fate has fixed it irrevocably, irrespective of him? Why shall he intermeddle in any respect with his state, character, or prospects when they are no more subject to him than are the revolutions of Saturn? To believe the doctrine, a man must close his eyes and yield himself up passively, unresistingly into the hands of fate, submitting to all that pertains to him as inevitable and right because procured by the Almighty. Every impulse a man feels toward regret, or reformation, or effort in his own behalf is a practical denial of the doctrine.


It does not relieve the case a particle to tell the man that though final destiny is fixed by decree, yet means are decreed, also, as well as destiny–the same difficulty, remains. If the means are decreed–or in other words, the sins to be an occasion of his damnation or the virtues to be a pretense for his salvation–he knows that he has nothing to do but passively submit. What else can he do? Can he move only as moved upon? Can he fail to move when moved upon? Doctor, can he do anything, anything under heaven but what God makes him do? If so, what? If not, why be careful?


Will you appeal to facts in proof that such is not the tendency of your system? I shall reply that they are incompetent to meet the case; that admitting them to be different from what it is alleged the system would make them, this would only prove that it–the system–had not always worked out its legitimate results; that the bad and disastrous influence had, in some instances, been counteracted by the presence of some wholesome element. But the facts, it is believed, so far from contradicting the above reasonings, do amply corroborate them so far from antagonizing us, do most fully sustain us. Calvinism has produced, and does now produce, the fruits charged against it; it does so not only in some, but in many, if not in all instances where it is not neutralized by the presence of more powerful principles of belief existing coetaneously in the mind. It is innocent only when it is practically disbelieved.


Here is a Calvinistic fatalist in theory, but really and at heart a man who is conscious of freedom and responsibility: the man may be, notwithstanding his theoretical error, a most exemplary and consistent Christian. The reason is manifest, his practice results, not from his theoretical creed, but from his actual consciousness. It is good in despite of the former and in accordance with the latter. But once let him yield all to his belief of fatalism, let him silence the voice of his reason and consciousness and of God, and give himself up to a firm belief of fate, and then you shall see, as you have often seen, all the results ascribed to such a faith.


  1. I object further to the system that it is wholly without support, either from Scripture or reason. This, I am apprised, is saying much, but no more than I conscientiously believe to be true; and I can only be convinced of error by hearing from Dr. Rice such arguments as I have not been able to discover in the writings of the various authors quoted in this volume, and many others not quoted, with which I have been accustomed to commune for years.


I have endeavored to speak plainly and to make myself understand upon these points; but I beg you to believe that I have felt no unkindness and have said nothing with the thought of offending. Indeed, I assure you, I have studied to use mildness; and have, therefore, left many things unsaid which I find pressing your system. I have purposely avoided naming many other real objections, contenting myself for the present with referring to those which are so palpable as to meet every mind at the threshold of an inquiry into your system, and so weighty as to startle the cautious inquirer at the boldness of doctrines involving such conclusions.