IS THE SINNER A MORAL AGENT IN HIS CONVERSION?
There are a great many questions asked upon the subject of conversion, and as many answers given as there are theories of religion, and many persons listening to men's theories upon this subject are left in doubt and darkness in reference to what is and is not conversion. You ask the Mormons, who fully believe their theory of conversion, and they will refer you to their own experience and the experience of the loyal, self-sacrificing devotees of their faith. Ask the Roman Catholic and he will give you an answer corresponding with his theory of religion. All Protestant parties give you their experience, and refer you to their loyal and self-sacrificing brethren for the truthfulness of their theories of conversion. In the midst of this conflict and medley of contradictions what are we to do? Shall we accept their experience as the infallible rule by which to determine the right from the wrong in matters pertaining to our present and eternal salvation? A strange rule, in view of the great contrariety of opinions and our liability to be misled. It would justify Mother Eve, she being deceived. But "she was found in the transgression." We may be deceived and found in transgression. This strange rule would justify Saul; for he verily thought he ought to do many things contrary to Jesus, which things he did, and did them in all good conscience towards God and man, yet he was a blasphemer and injurious. The Master, in view of our liability to be deceived, gave us a rule of conduct in reference to our communications in these words: "Let your communications be yea, yea, and nay, nay." It requires heroism and manhood, which is the highest degree of moral courage, to say nay where questions of personal interest are involved.
The rule in reference to God's word is different, being based upon his immutability and perfections. He is not deceived, not misled, not mistaken. Paul says in reference to the word of God, which was preached by himself, Sylvanus and Timotheus: "Our word toward you was not yea and nay, but in him was yea, for all the promises of God in Christ are yea, and in him amen unto the glory of God by us." 2 Cor. 1, 18–20. "Let God be true though every man be a liar," was in the times of the Apostles and first Christians a rule which they had no hesitancy in affirming. A moral agent is one who, with a knowledge of the right and wrong, exercises the power of action. In conversion it is the exercise of the power that begins conversion. If the sinner has not this power, then he is not a moral agent in his conversion. All the differences among men upon the subject of conversion grew out of their different notions of God and of men. It is a matter of the greatest consequence to have correct notions of God and of self. As conversion relates to both, wrong notions of one will create wrong notions of the other. Those who have been taught to debase themselves under the pretext of giving glory to God, consider meanness and wrong as natural and inherent imperfections of their being, and attributable to Father Adam and Mother Eve, and neglect to exercise the powers at their command. Being taught that they are unable to do anything to help themselves, they are left to throw the work all back upon God or give it up in despair. If they throw it back upon God, and regard themselves as passive recipients of the work of conversion, then they must wrestle with God, for there is no use in wrestling with the powerless one.
With this view of the subject the world's condition is incomprehensible, and in direct conflict with the revealed character of God. We would naturally suppose when we read that "God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance," that none would be allowed to perish on account of any neglect upon the divine side. But thousands do die in their sins. Do you say it is because of their great wickedness? In what does wickedness consist? Is it the neglect of that which is not in their power? Does not the system that God interposes in the conversion of the sinner rest upon the idea that the sinner is helpless in respect to his conversion? It certainly does. Then why should the sinner he blamed? This view of the sinner's moral condition necessitates a view of God utterly at variance with his character, viz: that he is now and then on the giving hand, that he consents to pour out his Spirit occasionally, and does this only where the good people wrestle with him and give him no rest day nor night....