Thomas Boston on Natural and Moral Inability



Man’s Fourfold State, in Works, vol. 8

II. The State of Nature, Part III, Man’s Utter Inability to Recover Himself, Rom. 5:6, Jn. 6:44

p. 132-3

Objection 1.  If we be under an utter inability to do any good, how can God require us to do it?

Answer.  God making man upright, Eccl. 7:29, gave him a power to do everything that he should require of him; this power man lost by his own fault.  We were bound to serve God, and do whatever He commanded us, as being his creatures; and also, we were under the superadded tie of a covenant, for that purpose.  Now, we having, by our own fault, disabled ourselves, shall God lose his right of requiring of requiring our task, because we have thrown away the strength He gave us whereby to perform it?  Has the creditor no right to require payment of his money, because the debtor has squandered it away, and is not able to pay him?  Truly, if God can require no more of us than we are able to do, we need no more to save us from wrath, but to make ourselves unable for every duty, and to incapacitate ourselves for serving God any manner of way, as profane men frequently do: and so the deeper a man is plunged in sin, he will be the more secure from wrath; for where God can require no duty of us, we do not sin in omitting it; and where there is no sin, there can be no wrath.  As to what may be urged by the unhumbled soul, against the putting our stock in Adam’s hand, the righteousness of that dispensation was explained before.  But moreover, the unrenewed man is daily throwing away the very remains of natural abilities, that rational light and strength which are to be found amongst the ruins of mankind.  Nay, farther, he will not believe his own utter inability to help himself; so that out of his own mouth, he must be condemned.  Even those who make their natural impotency too good a covert to their sloth, do, with others, delay the work of turning to God from time to time, and, under convictions, make large promises of reformation, which afterwards they never regard, and delay their repentance to a death-bed, as if they could help themselves in a moment; which shows them to be far from a due sense of their natural ability, whatever they pretend.

Now, if God can require of men the duty they are not able to do, He can in justice punish them for their not doing it, notwithstanding their inability.  If He has power to exact the debt of obedience, He has also power to cast the insolvent debtor into prison, for his not paying it.  Further, though unregenerate men have no gracious abilities, yet they want not natural abilities which nevertheless they will not improveThere are many things they can do, which they do not; they will not do them, and therefore their damnation will be just.  Nay, all their inability to do good is voluntary; they will not come to Christ, John 5:40They will not repent, they will die, Eze. 18:31.  So they will be justly condemned; because they will neither turn to God, nor come to Christ; but love their chains better than their liberty, and darkness rather than light, John 3:19.


p. 134-5

…Finally, though you cannot recover yourselves, not take hold of the saving help offered to you in the Gospel; yet even by the power of nature, you may use the outward and ordinary means, whereby Christ communicated the benefit of redemption to ruined sinners, who are utterly unable to recover themselves out of the state of sin and wrath…

You may examine yourselves as to the state of your souls, in a solemn manner, as in the presence of God; you may discern that you have no grace, and that you are lost and undone without it; and you may cry unto God for it  These things are within the compass of natural abilities, and may be practiced where there is no grace.  It must aggravate your guilt, that you will not be at so much pains about the state and case of your precious souls.  If you do not what you can, you will be condemned, not only for the want of grace, but for your despising it.

¹ [Webmaster’s note: Note that John Girardeau affirmed this same thing 150 year later.]



Related Page

Natural vs. Moral Ability Mainpage