William Bates on Natural vs. Moral Ability




‘Sermon 10 on the Marriage Feast’, on Lk. 14:23, in The Complete Works of William Bates, reprinted 1990 by Sprinkle Publications, vol. 4, p. 140

Our Savior assures us, ‘no man can come to Him, except the Father which has sent Me, draw him.’ John 6:44.  The words are full of emphasis, ‘no man’, the negation is universal; not only the act is denied, ‘no man comes’ but the power, ‘can come’; no less than omnipotent grace draws him.  A carnal man will ‘not come to Christ for life,’ and he cannot will to come, for his mind is so forelaid with prejudice, and his will is so depraved and entangled with the love of sin, that he cannot sincerely desire to be set free.  Every delightful sin is like a charmed circle out of which the sinner cannot move.

We are not to conceive of this disability, as if sinners had not deliberative and elective faculties to consider and choose what is best: such a disability would be an argument for their innocence and justification: neither as if men had a will to forsake sin, and wanted [lacked] power; like a miserable slave that sighs after liberty, but is fastened by heavy fetters: but the perverse will keeps them in bondage: ‘they serve diverse lusts and pleasures,’ and delight in their fetters.  It is a voluntary culpable impotence joined with a strong reluctancy to grace: it is the impudent imperious weakness of the whorish woman charged upon the Israelites, and admits of no apology and defense: nay, it aggravates the sin and sentence of such depraved creatures.  As there is in virtue and holiness a divine degree of perfection, that makes persons not capable of departing from their duty: so there is a diabolical degree in sin, when the soul is so depraved, that it cannot abstain from doing evil.  And as consummate virtue is most worthy of esteem and praise; so when a vicious habit contracted by a long custom in sin, absolutely possesses the soul, it is most worthy of abhorrence.

Now only divine grace ‘compels sinners to come to Christ,’ and to partake of saving mercies: that is, changes the bias of the will, and makes it obedient to the heavenly call… 


The Harmony of Divine Attributes in the Contrivance and Accomplishment of Divine Redemption, reprinted by Sprinkle, 1985, p. 63-5

There is a natural impotence, which protects from the severity of justice.  No man is bound to stop the sun in its course, or to remove mountains; for the human nature was never endued with faculties to do those things.  They are indubitably beyond our power.  Now the law enjoins nothing but what man had in his creation an original power to perform.

There is a moral impotence, which arises from a perverse disposition of the will, and is joined with a delight in sin, and a strong aversion to the holy commands of God; and the more deep and inveterate this is, the more worthy it is of punishment.  Aristotle asserts, that those who contract invincible habits by custom, are inexcusable, though they cannot abstain from evil; for since liberty consists in doing what one wills, this impossibility does not destroy liberty; the depravation of the faculties does not hinder their voluntary operations.  The understanding conceives, the will chooses, the appetite desires, freelyA distracted [insane] person that kills, is not guilty of murder, and therefore is secure from the sentence of the law; for his understanding being distempered by the disorder of the images in his fancy, it did not judge aright, so that the action is involuntary, and therefore not culpable.  But there is a vast difference between the causes of distraction [insanity], and those which induce a carnal man to sin… [in the case of the carnal man] its impotence lies in its obstinacyThis is the meaning of St. Peter, speaking concerning unclean persons, that ‘their eyes are full of adultery, and they cannot cease from sin.’ [2 Pet. 2:14]  It is from their fault alone that they are without powerAnd in this, the diseases of the body are different from those of the soul.  In the first, the desire of healing is ineffectual, through want [lack] of knowledge or power to apply the sovereign remedies; whereas, in the second, the sincere desire of their cure is insufficient, for the diseases are corrupt desires.

From hence it appears, that though in the corrupt nature there is no liberty of indifference to good and evil, yet there is a liberty of delight in evil; and though the will in its natural capacity may choose good, yet it is morally determined by its love to evil In short, there is so much power not to sin as [there] is [power] sufficient to sin; that is, that the forbidden action be free, and so become a sin.  Which strange combination of liberty and necessity is excellently expressed by St. Bernard, “that the soul which fell by its own choice, cannot recover itself, is from the corruption of the will, which, overcome by the vicious love of the body, rejects the love of righteousness; so that, in a manner as strange as evil, the will being corrupted with sin, makes a necessity to itself, yet so, the necessity being voluntary, does not excuse the will; nor the will, being pleasantly and powerfully allured, exclude necessity.”  The law, therefore, remains in its full force, and God is righteous in commanding and condemning sinners.

From all that has been discoursed, it is evident how impossible it is for corrupt man to recover his lost holiness; for there are only two motives to induce the reasonable creature to seek after it—its beauty and loveliness—and the reward that attends it.  And both these arguments are ineffectual to work upon him.





Related Pages

Natural vs. Moral Ability

Total Depravity