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PRESIDENT OF THE THEOLOGICAL INSTITUTE OF CONNECTICUT.
18 3 8.
An Inquiry respecting the self-determining power of the Will; or contingent volition. By
JEREMIAH Day, President of Yale College. New Haven, Herrick and Noyes, 1838. pp.
We have read this little volume with deep interest, and with a high degree of satisfaction. President Day possesses the rare tal. ent of rendering an abstruse subject remarkably plain. His habits of study, and long experience as a teacher in mathematical and physical science and mental philosophy, added to a mind naturally clear and discriminating, have eminently fitted him for the task he has undertaken. His object is not to propound any new theories on the subject of moral agency. He lays claim to no new discoveries in theological science; nor is he disposed to follow in the track of modern innovators. His views, so far as we can discover, do not differ from those of Edwards; yet he has found ample scope for his peculiar talents, in elucidating and defending the principles for which that illustrious divine contended. The reader, therefore, must not expect to find in the work before us, any new theological views, or philosophical theories; but he will find old and long established principles clearly stated, and their truth con. clusively demonstrated. He will find truths which have been obscu. red by the use of vague and ambiguous terms, brought out to the light of day, and commended to his understanding by a force of evidence which cannot be easily resisted. Many a reader, we cannot doubt, who has been sorely perplexed by recent theological speculations, will find his mind relieved by a perusal of this volume. It is a most timely production; and we cannot but cherish the hope that it will do much towards dispelling the mists which a false philosophy has thrown around some of the fundamental doctrines of the Gospel
The spirit which pervades the work, is such as we should anticipate from what we know of the candor, mildness, and Christian simplicity of the author. It is free from every thing like acrimony, or bigotry, or dogmatism, or the spirit of party. The manifest design of the writer, is to ascertain the truth, and to exhibit it with plainness, whatever may be its bearing on existing theological controversies.
The style is neat, simple, pure, and remarkably perspicuous.
For precision of thought and language, for accuracy of definition and clear explanation of ambiguous terms, and for lucid argumentation, the work is not surpassed by any metaphysical treatise within our knowledge. While perusing it we were forcibly remind. ed of a remark which was once made in reference to another production; “ It is like the waters of one of our northern lakes, deep and clear - so clear indeed, that a careless observer might think it shallow."
It may perhaps be thought by some, that the theory of a selfdetermining power of the will, has long since been exploded that nobody now believes it, and that he who attempts to refute it is only beating the air. Such, however, is not the opinion of President Day. His clear and penetrating mind has traced certain errors of the present day, to their first principles. He has discovered the starting point from which the reasoning of their advocates proceeds; and he has rightly judged, that the most effectual way to destroy these errors, is, to demolish the foundation on which they rest. He
says, “ the self-determining power of the will is a subject intimately connected with many of the theological discussions of the present day.” We are entirely of the same opinion. By this, however, we do not mean, and we presume our author did not mean, that this theory is at the present day openly and professedly maintained. Probably no one who has been engaged in the recent discussions which relate to the moral agency of man, and the moral government of God, would say, in so many words, that "every free act of the will is determined by an antece. dent free act;" or that “ volitions are contingent events.” Yet, unless we greatly mistake, there are those who have advanced and strenuously defended principles, which necessarily involve the theory in one or the other of these forms. At all events, there are those, (as we shall attempt to show before we have done,) who have called in question the great doctrine which it is the object of Presi. dent Day to defend; viz: The absolute dominion of God over the moral universe ; and his entire control of the thoughts, feelings, and conduct of his accountable creatures.
His object in writing the treatise, and the reasons which induced him to adopt this particular mode of discussion, will appear from the following remarks in his “ Introductory Observations."
“The momentous interest which belongs to this subject, lies in its relation to the moral government of God. If nothing from without the will of the agent can have any influence in determining what his volitions shall be, then it must be beyond the power of the Father of our spirits to give direction to the acts of the will, without interfering with the prerogatives of accounta. ble agency."
“ If the creator has filled this and other worlds with living agents, whose acts of will are entirely independent of himself, he can only look on, and observe the operation of their voluntary powers; accommodating the course of his external providence to what they may happen to determine. On this supposition, he can punish iniquity, but can do nothing to
prevent it, without impairing the independence of moral agency. He can render a reward to virtue, but can take no effectual measures to promote it, except by such a determining influence, as is supposed to be inconsistent with the very nature of virtue. He can rule the worlds of matter, which roll in harmony and brightness through the heavens, but cannot control the heart of
“On a subject so momentous, and so difficult to be thor. oughly comprehended in all its relations, it might be expected that we should almost instinctively turn to the records of inspired truth for instruction. He who gave to the human soul its being, and all its powers of thought and voli. tion, must surely know, whether any efficacious influence from without is inconsistent with accountable agency. But here we are met by an assumption which precludes a reference to the decision of Scripture. It is claimed that reason, and consciousness, and common sense, have already decided the point; and that God cannot contradict, in his word, what he has distinctly made known to us, by the faculties which he himself has implanted in the soul. Whatever passages, therefore, which seem to favor a particular doctrine, may be found in the Scriptures, they are to be so interpreted, as not to signify any thing which reason pronounces to be absurd. We are called upon, then, to inquire, whether the position that nothing but the will itself has any influ. ence in determining what its acts shall be, is so intuitively or demonstrably certain, as.to preclude all possibility of finding the contrary declared in the word of God. So long as this position is adhered to, it is vain to think of appealing to the authority of the Scriptures, on the question respecting the self-determining power of the will. They will of course be so explained, as to express a meaning in conformity with the principles assumed. This is my apology for making an application of dry metaphysics to a subject so nearly connected with one of the departments of Scriptural theology. Those who are prepared to receive implicitly the divine testimony, just as they find it on the sacred page, may pass over this part of the subject as being unnecessary for them; and proceed to the section in which the evidence from Scripture is presented.” pp. 11 – 14. It
appears from these remarks, that our author regards the subject under discussion, as “ nearly connected with one of the depart. ments of Scriptural theology,” where the ultimate standard of appeal must be the word of God. By this criterion all our philosophical conclusions must be tested. 66 To the law and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.' President Day has no sympathy with those who exalt reason above revelation; or who explain away the obvi. ous meaning of the Bible, to make it accord with the decisions of their philosophy. Whether God can control, at pleasure, the moral actions of men, is a question which he who created the human soul, and who endued it with all the attributes which it
possesses, is certainly better able to decide than a creature of yesterday. And if in the revelation which he has given to man, he has spoken on this subject, it becomes us to receive his testimony with child. like simplicity. That the Bible is explicit on this point, our author fully believes. He considers it indeed so explicit, that “those who are prepared to receive the divine testimony just as they find it on the sacred page," have no need to perplex their minds with metaphysical speculations.
But the objectors to this doctrine contend that it involves absurd.