The Emotional And Ethical In Religion -- By: John Milton Williams

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 048:191 (Jul 1891)
Article: The Emotional And Ethical In Religion
Author: John Milton Williams


The Emotional And Ethical In Religion

Rev. John Milton Williams

THE term “religion,” though largely used in a wider sense, is defined with sufficient accuracy as conformity to obligation, and made a synonym of virtue, holiness, meritoriousness, benevolence, or moral love.

The human soul, constituted of three generic faculties, is capable of but three generic exercises: thinking, feeling, willing, exhausts its capabilities.

While the intellect is essential to rational existence and moral agency, its exercises are not distinctive elements of religion, inasmuch as they are common to both the good and the bad. The worst man as clearly apprehends his obligation to do right as the best, and perhaps as clearly perceives what is right; and probably there are no truths believed by the latter which the former may not believe, and possibly none “the evil one” does not believe. Strictly intellectual phenomena, then, may be dismissed from our inquiries.

The question upon which I venture a few suggestions pertains to the relation of the sensibility and will—the emotional and ethical—to virtue; a question which assumes importance in both its theoretical and practical bearings, and constitutes one of the chief points of controversy between two great schools of theology.

The Calvinist gives a clear and adequate, but not generally accepted, answer to our question. He makes the emotional the primary element of virtue, and the ethical an emanation, or outflow, from it. I think all Calvinists will

concur in this statement. President Dwight holds that “Adam, antecedent to his first moral act, was propense to the exercise of virtuous, rather than sinful volitions,” and that this propensity, or relish as he terms it, was essential holiness—holiness so complete and perfect, that, had Adam died before his first moral act, he would have died a perfectly holy man. He also regards this relish as the source whence Adam’s virtuous volitions flowed, and as “the reason they were virtuous rather than sinful.” By reason of the fall, he claims, this holy disposition was displaced, and a corrupt disposition, which was true and properly sin, substituted. Regeneration, he claims, consists in a partial restoration, by a divine interposition, of this holy relish. His language is: “In regeneration the same thing is done, by the Spirit of God, for the soul which was done for Adam, by the same Divine Agent, at his creation. The soul of Adam was created with a relish for spiritual objects. The soul of every man who becomes a Christian is renewed by the communication of the same relish. In Adam this disposition preceded virtuous volitions. In every chil...

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