Thomas Ford on Natural vs. Moral Ability

Ford (1598-1674) was a member of the Westminster Assembly



The Sinner Condemned of himself, being a plea for God against all the ungodly, proving them alone guilty of their own destruction, and that they shall be condemned in the great day of account, not for that they lacked, but only because they neglected the means of their salvation.  And also, showing how fallacious and frivolous a pretense it is in any to say they would do better, if they could; when indeed all men could, and might do better, if they would.  By one, that wishes better to all, than most do to themselves, 1668

p. 65

And thus Scripture speaks of man’s weakness as his wickedness, and his infirmity is his iniquity too.  Take him as he is and you will find him thus: He cannot will that which is good because he will not.  His ‘can’ and his ‘will’ being all one.  Such is his natural bent to evil that he voluntarily chooses it and refuses the good.  And now let any man judge whether such an inability can be any excuse for sin, it being at most but a moral impotency (as we call it) and not a natural.

Hence (methinks) I cannot make good sense of what some are wont [accustomed] to say, that they would repent if they could.  I suppose, it would be more sense to say, ‘they would repent, if they would.’  For certain, if a man be heartily willing to repent, there is nothing left to hinder his repentance.  A serious and instant will to repent and believe includes in it the hatred of sin and a purpose of not sinning.  He that truly desires to repent does indeed repent, because he hates his own evil ways.

I grant it willingly that no man can turn to God without the grace of God, but that is all one as to say, ‘no man will turn to God, without the grace of God.’  For there is nothing that hinders him but his wicked, froward will.  A man may have a charitable disposition and be heartily willing to relieve others in their necessities, and yet may not because he has not wherewithal to do it.  His heart may be large when his estate is strait enough.  And in this case the will is accepted for the deed.  For alms-deeds are imperate [commanded], outward acts, wherein the will cannot sway all.  And therefore it may be rationally said of such a man, ‘he would with all his heart, if he could.’  But to repent and believe are elicit, inward, immediate acts of the will, and are not exercised by another power as the imperate [commanded outward acts] are.  With the heart man believes, and with the heart man repents.  There is, I grant, an outward reformation of the life which is a fruit of repentance, but repentance is a root in the heart and when a man is changed, so [he is changed] as to hate the evil, and love the good.  Or whenever a man of unwilling, is made willing, then he repents.  And therefore it cannot be said with good sense, ‘men would repent if they could.’  There’s more sense, and truth too, in saying, ‘men could repent if they would.’  To say, ‘I am willing to repent but I cannot,’ is all one as to say, ‘I am willing to repent but I will not.’  I may be willing to work or to walk, but because I am sick and weak in body I cannot.  But if I am willing to repent and believe, the work is done.  For these are the immediate acts of my will.


p. 76-9

For God ran after man when man had run away from Him and provided for his recovery to a more blessed and glorious estate when he could think of nothing but a few fig leaves to cover his shame.  And God is still reaching out his merciful arms to lay hold on him, inviting and wooing him, and [He] never refuses any soul, that turns to Him.  And what would men have more?

Objection: But if it be said, I cannot (in the case I am) turn myself.

Solution: I say you lie in what you say: For, to speak as it is, you are not willing to turn unto the Lord.  And this, and nothing else, will be your condemnation in the great day of account.  There is a price paid and a purchase made, and you are invited to come and take possession of it.  But you had rather abide where you are, and hold your sins as sweet-meats under your tongue, and will not let them go, though you have been often told, they will be the bane of your soul.  And how dare you say you cannot turn yourself, when God, and your own heart, and the world too, know, you are enamored on your sin, and have such a liking to it as you will by no means be persuaded to part with it?  Will you willfully prosecute your sinful designs and courses and set your heart upon your iniquity, and say, you cannot turn from it?  For shame speak sense, and talk no more so absurdly.  Will a man be at cost and pains to serve and feed his lusts, and he not love them?  And if you love them, they have your will.  And when you are willing to part with them (I say) heartily willing, the work of conversion is done.  But while you are not willing to part with your lusts, say as it is, ‘I will not, I will not.’  Say the truth, for so it is.  You had rather part with your soul forever, than part with the pleasures of sin for a season.  You delight in your own ways, and are one of them that say unto God, ‘Depart from us, for we desire not the knowledge of your ways.’  It is not with ungodly ones as they pretend.  For they choose their own ways, and when they eat the fruits of them, they are but filled with their own devices.  They first sow iniquity and then reap shame and misery.  When they go down to Hell, they go where they had a mind to be.  They have been often and earnestly called upon to pity and favor their poor souls, but they would not be persuaded.  How many a sinner has parted with his life for his lusts sake?  And all do so as to their souls.  If men would study Scripture more and search their own hearts more than they do they would soon answer their own arguments.  

Let me now commend to them one place, viz. Prov. 1, from v. 20 to the end of the chapter, and let them consider what the wisdom of God judges concerning the wicked ways of men.  And O! that men would read and weigh our Savior’s words, John 3:19,20, ‘This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.  Christ and his Word, and all his ordinances, are a light, and wicked men, like thieves, cannot abide them, because they would not be discovered by them.  This is the judgment that Scripture passes upon ungodly men, and if they would pass the same, and so judge and condemn themselves, they might find peace in approaching to God. 

But to argue and whartle about the ways of God’s providence and grace as if they were not equal [just], when God and their own hearts know, they are passionately in love with, yea and mad upon, their idols, I mean their lusts and loose practices, they will turn to no good account one day, whatever men count of now.  They that are so apt to quarrel God should rather call themselves to an account.  And if they would be exact in this work we should have more complaints of themselves, that their own ways are unequal [unjust], and all the ways of God most equal, and just, and good.  

To shut up this, I shall only mention one text, Prov. 8:36, ‘All that hate Me, love death.  They are the words that were spoken by the infinite and eternal Wisdom of God, who says as much in effect, John 3:19,20, before cited, wicked men love darkness, and death.  They are not damned (as they pretend) to sin and Hell against their wills, but they love them, and choose them, when they might forbear and avoid them.  They love their sins and therefore hate their souls.  They love sin, and in so doing love death.  They are willing to be damned, as willing (for certain) as a man that wittingly takes poison is willing to kill himself.




Related Pages

Natural vs. Moral Ability

Total Depravity