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Home arrow Griffin's History arrow Justification and Kindred Subjects: Chapter 2
Justification and Kindred Subjects: Chapter 2 PDF Print E-mail
Written by J.H. Oliphant   

THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN MORAL AND PHYSICAL GOVERNMENT.

I have long thought it important to understand the distinction between MORAL and PHYSICAL government. Matter is governed by PHYSICAL laws. Perhaps every atom of matter obeys the laws of nature. Intelligent beings, only, can be governed by MORAL law. Vice and virtue are found in MORAL government only. The little boy never finds FAULT with his marbles for being in the wrong place, nor praises them for being in the right place. The ship is not to blame for landing at the wrong port, nor to be praised for landing at the right. Not so in the government of a family. The parent does not govern his children as the boy governs his marbles. Right and wrong have no place among the marbles, but they do have a place among the children. The one is moral government, the other is physical government. Neither blame nor praise is due a single atom in the universe of matter. The train need not be punished for running off a bridge, nor the knife for murder. In short, these things are controlled by physical laws, and are incapable of vice or virtue, right or wrong.

Moral law cannot trespass on the physical, nor can physical force trespass on the moral. To moral government belongs reason, judgment, understanding, conscience, etc., but not to the physical. Argument, exhortation, persuasion, etc., are moral forces, and never can be used in the physical. An argument cannot burst an oak, nor drown a city. Nor can persuasion draw a train, nor melt an iceberg.

Now, God’s government of men is not a PHYSICAL government, it is a MORAL government. He has given laws, commands, promises, etc., to men. Where men go wrong with respect to his laws it is very different from the circumstances of the marble going wrong. We must not so explain total depravity, or, hereditary sin, nor yet predestination as to make God’s government of men like the boy’s government of his marbles. WE MUST NOT REDUCE GOD’S MORAL GOVERNMENT OF MEN TO A LEVEL WITH HIS GOVERNMENT OF MATTER. We are liable to so understand depravity, or the decrees, as to find an excuse or apology for sin, and leave the sinner blameless. I have long believed that precious brethren sometimes err in this particular.

If there be any excuse, or apology, or mitigating circumstances for sin, then to that extent it is not sin. If one cannot handle the subject of the decrees without apologizing for sin, it is best for him to let the subject alone; it will be like the child playing with the razor. Paul so preached as to make the doctrine of grace sparkle and shine as a star of the first magnitude: "To the praise of the glory of his grace." He adds one word to another to heighten our conception of grace, but if we set about to find some excuse or apology for sin, we take away the bed-rock of the doctrine of grace; for if the truth respecting the decrees of God be such as to excuse men and leave the sinner without blame, then there would be little or nothing for grace to do. I think it plain that if we would love or defend the doctrine of grace, we must oppose every sentiment that apologizes for sin. We sing, "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me." "O to grace how great a debtor." To feel the power of these lines, we must see ourselves as guilty, with no apology or mitigating circumstances.

Conditionality is a necessary element of moral government. I do not regard the resurrection of the dead, or regeneration, as acts of obedience, as a vice or virtue on our part, because they are not our acts at all. They are the simple acts of God. They do not properly belong to moral government, but to another system of things. Some of our brethren object to the word, "conditional," but I think it represents the truth on the subject as well as any word we could use. "If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love." The word "IF" in this text denotes conditionality. Webster in defining the word says, "It introduces a conditional sentence." This is not the only use of the word, "if," but Webster mentions it first. There are hundreds of places in the Bible where the word is used as in the above text. I have conferred with some of the educators of this city relative to the meaning of the word, and I doubt whether there is a single college or institution of learning among English speaking people that would deny Webster’s definition. "If ye do these things ye shall never fall." If we tell our people this is not conditional, they would not know the meaning of any text.

I regard Cruden as a good author. Our "Signs of the Times" brethren advertise his book and sell it, and I think it an excellent help to the study of the Bible. He gives the meaning; 1. ACondition 2.    A supposition." 3. "A reason of a matter." Cruden cites some places in Deut., xxviii., as an example where "if" is used in a "conditional" sense, also Luke ix. 23. The word "if" occurs six or eight times in Deut. xxviii. Carefully read the whole chapter; verse two, "If thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God, blessed shalt thou be in the city," etc. Now, if we deny conditionality in these places we must deny the generally accepted meaning of the word "if." Jesus says, "Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, and ye shall find rest." Jesus addresses his disciples as intelligent beings, and lays before them an inducement to follow him; he does not deal with them as the boy deals with his marbles, but presents motives, as if he would say, You need rest; you are laboring and heavy laden and need rest. He plainly encourages them to obedience by promising them rest in case they obey. Parents do the same thing with their children. "If you will obey me in this matter, I will give you a toy, or give you my approval."

Some of our brethren think it would be an unworthy motive for us to serve the Lord in the hope of receiving a blessing, but why are these motives put before us as an encouragement to obedience? Take the words, "If ye keep my commandments ye shall abide in my love." Would it be a sin for us to desire to abide in his love? Or would it show an unworthy temper if we ask, "How can I enjoy the love of God?" And when told, that we shall abide in his love, IF we keep his commandments, would it be a sin for us to allow this fact to weigh something with us? Certainly not. To say, "We shall be blest IN obedience" would not change the case. If we are told that precious fruits grow in a certain road, we understand that we cannot have the fruits unless we go along that road. So, if we put it this way there is as much reason to be influenced to obedience by the hope of reward as there is to admit that our "time salvation" is conditional. We gain nothing to say we are blest IN obedience, for in this way of putting it we clearly hold that our receiving the blessing depends on our obeying. If the blessing is IN obedience, it is plain that we must obey in order to enjoy it, and also that we cannot enjoy it in disobedience; but if men obey they will receive the blessing.

Take the text in Peter, "He that will love life, and see good days," etc. Is it a sin to love life and desire good days? Peter here urges this as an inducement to lead brethren to obey. It is a good motive and worthy for men to desire to enjoy life. Peter tells how to do this, "let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile; let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it." As a motive and encouragement to obedience he says, "He that will love life, and see good days." These are not the only motives, but they are some of the motives. It is not sinful to serve God and do right in order that we may see good days. Our ministers have urged this upon the people as one reason why they should obey. I have hundreds of times urged that there is sweet peace found in obedience, that we cannot have peace and rest of mind in sinful paths, hence we should eschew evil, seek peace, and ensue it. We should distinguish between that salvation in which we are quickened, and that which "we work out." God’s word does not call on us to be quickened, or to be born again; but it does, hundreds and thousands of times, show us it is OUR duty to obey. Now, if obedience is of grace in the same sense that being born again is of grace, how is it that we are called on to do the one and not called on to do the other? We can scarcely read a page of God’s word but we see a command, exhortation, or encouragement to obey the Lord and do right. And we may read every line in the Old and New Testaments and not once find it our duty to be born again. Now, if both are of grace in the same sense, why are we, times without limit, exhorted to do the one, and scores of motives laid before us to induce us thereto, and not once exhorted to do the other? The fact is, we should make a distinction here.

We should either exhort everybody to be born again, or nobody to obedience, or we should make a plain, clear distinction between time salvation and eternal salvation. And as the apostles of old, we should exhort one another to love and do good works. We should use their arguments to induce the people of God to serve the Lord and do right. The motives found in the Bible are numerous. The Scriptures appeal to us from the love of God, and on account of mercies received, to our love of life and good days, to our need and love of rest, and countless motives are mentioned. We need not despise a man if we find him serving God in order to enjoy his presence and approval, or for fear of "falling," or becoming "a cast-away." All these motives, and scores of others, are put before him. God does not deal with his children as the boy does with his marbles, and say, "When I want you in the right place I will put you there." His government is parental and moral, and not physical.

Liberty of will is essential to moral government. No one ever charged Gill, Calvin, or Edwards with Arminianism, yet they believed the words, "liberty of will," expressed truth. The London Confession contains the sentiment. Buck says that in his time none denied it, but the dispute was as to the nature of that liberty. All well-informed Arminians hold the will is free in the sense IT IS SELF-DETERMINING. No one holds the will to be free in the sense that men are licensed to do wrong. The worst Arminian admits that God’s law forbids sin, and that men are not free to sin, in the sense that they may lawfully do as they please about it. Men possess liberty in the sense that they are not hindered from it; though they are forbidden to sin, yet they are not hindered from it. Sin resides in the WILL, INTENT; not so much in the act as in the will. A man shot with the design to kill a deer, he missed the deer and killed a friend; there was a man killed, but the crime of murder was not committed. Another man shot with the design of killing a man, he missed the man and killed a deer. In this case there was murder, but no one killed; the crime was in the will. In this way men may be guilty of murder, theft, adultery, etc., without the deed actually being committed. The will is the nest of sin. Men are not tempted of God, but every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Lust is the egg, and when it conceives it brings forth sin.

Certainly men possess some kind of liberty when they do as they please; however, the body may be bound, but not so the desires. It is urged that if the will is controlled by the strongest motive it cannot be free in any sense, but I think the reverse is rather true. The mother has the strongest motive for caring for her babe, yet she acts most freely in the matter; she does as she pleases. When men do this they certainly have some kind of liberty. If a strong motive to do a thing destroys liberty, then the stronger ones motives may be, the less liberty he would have, and on this method of reasoning, God himself would be destitute of liberty of will, because he acts from the strongest motives possible.

We are liable to extremes on both sides. If we urge that the work and presence of the Spirit is necessary to obedience, JUST AS IT IS NECESSARY to regeneration, we deny obedience being VOLUNTARY; for in regeneration we are not voluntary, and so regeneration is not a virtue on our part. And if the Spirit’s power and presence is exerted in our obedience, JUST AS IT IS IN OUR regeneration, then there is no duty in obedience, as we perform no duty in regeneration. And so on the other side we are liable to forget that we must "have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and Godly fear." We must worship "in spirit and truth," if we worship at all. If we take one extreme, we take away all vice or virtue from the conduct of God’s people, and if we take the other we substitute cold formality for the spiritual worship of God.

The word "GRACE" is not always used in the same sense, "By grace are ye saved." Here the DOCTRINE of grace is referred to, the principle from which God acts in our salvation. But when Paul says, "Let us have grace whereby we may serve God," etc., he refers to the gracious influences and presence of the Lord, and without grace in this last sense there can be no true obedience; there could be no peace and fellowship in our midst. Sure enough, "Let us have grace." We certainly need it, and can never be happy or useful without it.

I do not fall out with brethren who differ with me on these points, I am conscious from my own experience that I am to blame for sin now, and that if I should be finally lost it will be just in God.

I wish our brethren could be patient with each other and not pursue each other for every difference. Difference in views leads to investigation, and friendly and brotherly investigation will do us good.

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 12 September 2006 )
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