The Practical Philosophy (Dabney)

Dabney, R. L. The Practical Philosophy. 1897. Reprint, Harrisonburg, VA. Sprinkle Publications, 1984.

It’s the current year.  Nothing I can say can (or should) excuse Dabney’s more egregious faults.  I’ll only say this: apply the same standard across the board.  Aristotle believed in abortion and didn’t believe women were fully human.  Plato believed in sexual communism. Evangelicals voted for Trump.  Which historical figure can stand in that great day?

Should one read Dabney?  That depends. (It’s the current year.)  Should one make him a staple of his theological diet?  Probably not.  That honor would go to Shedd or Hodge.  On the other hand, if one wants to understand 19th century American intellectual thought (not simply Reformed thought), Dabney is required reading, if only to attack him. (It’s the current year.)

We can take it a step further.  There aren’t many Reformed treatments on the emotions and the will.  Before Richard Muller I can think of…well, none.  If you want to understand how 19th century thinkers, both Christian and non-Christian, thought about the will and the soul, then you have to read Dabney.  You simply won’t find any detailed treatment of faculty psychology from an American Christian on these issues.

In what is perhaps a surprising move from a Reformed theologian, Dabney stresses the importance of feelings.  There can be no motive or action without feeling (Dabney 5). Feelings do not ebb or flow, only their intensity does.  A state of calm is just as much “feeling.” Feelings are not independent, though.  As he later writes, “Feelings are conditioned on the presence before the intellect of an appropriate cognition” (105).

To feel nobly is better than to think acutely. A noble incentive of generous feeling energizes the will, which whets the intellect. Dabney makes a distinction between sensibilities and appetencies (10ff). Sensibility is passive; desire is active.  Desire or appetency: the soul acts from inward to outward (11). There is an element of spontaneity. Sensibilities are the occasions for the outflow of appetencies. My free agency doesn’t come into play when I experience sense impressions. This distinction necessary for free agency. Appetencies are the essential element for motive (14). A mere feeling is not necessarily a sensibility.

Book II is the most important part of the book, as he analyzes the nature of the will. When one chooses, one chooses something. This object presents itself to the mind as both attainable and good. The “conjoined function of judgment and appetency…prompts our own volition; it is the spirit acting in both these concurrent modes” (141). Our appetencies can remain dormant for a time. Our volitions do not.

It is better to speak of a “Free soul” than a free will. Faculties act efficiently on faculties.  “Thought is the soul thinking,” etc.The soul determines volition, “and that soul is self-determined to volition, and therefore free”(151). God’s foreknowledge doesn’t compromise the freedom of a creature (154). An infinite mind can arrange for the certain occurrence of an act. The fatalist sneaks in a hidden premise: God can only work through compulsory means. Our motives determine all our deliberate volitions (158). Inducements are objects of our desire that are capable of stimulating our sensibility. Motives are subjective appetencies

Argument: Whatever we deliberately choose, “it is because we have a motive for our choice” (168). To persuade someone, we have to get him to move his will to some inducement (172). This isn’t the cause of his actions. We have to change his subjective disposition. While we maintain free agency, we do not believe the will is in equilibrium at the moment of the choice. It is in some sense determined by “prevalent antecedent motives” (190). Up to this point, Jonathan Edwards is correct.  (He erred in making God the sole efficient cause in Original Sin).

The second half of the book deals in practical philosophy.  Dabney refutes various ethical theories.  Of particular interest is utilitarianism and Jonathan Edwards’ hedonism.  Jonathan Edwards’ view: virtue is benevolence to being in general (220). “Every judgment of beauty is analyzable into a perception of order and harmony.” New England Theology: love to being in general became affection of benevolence.

Refutation: Scripture doesn’t define love to God as benevolence to being in general. Loving God’s holiness is not the same thing as affection for kindness. This ethics is unworkable for most of humanity.  The average peasant mother doesn’t care about benevolence to being in general. On this reasoning, a son is better off saving a great stranger than his own father.

Dabney’s true genius lies in his take on wealth and economics.  (In one of the strangest ironies, he sounds very close to Tim Keller and the TGC men). Dabney has an excellent section on wealth that avoids communist decadence on one hand and gangster capitalism on the other hand.  We can desire wealth within its proper limits: The desire must not become inordinate (84ff). The desire must propose itself to pure and just objects. It must never become inequitable.

Unlimited luxury is sinful. God gives us wealth so that we may be stewards. It is objected that spending money on luxury items provides income for those who produce them.  Dabney responds: these luxuries “create wider mischief” (471). It degrades those who use them, and redirects capital and energy away from nobler pursuits.

On usury: medieval scholasticism said usury was wrong because money cannot reproduce. This is a fallacy because we know that capital lent does create new values (489). Moreover, usury laws merely drive up the prices of goods. Lenders know that their loans will become riskier. This means the supply of money is diminished and the demand is now increased.  The prices go up.

In conclusion, this is a valuable primary text for studying 19th century religious thought. Be that as it may, Dabney’s other views will prevent this from being more widely read.


Big Book of Christian Apologetics (Geisler)

Geisler, Norman.  The Big Book of Christian Apologetics.

 I read the original “Baker Encyclopedia” in college.  I’m partial to that one for nostalgic reasons.  This one is good, too (and is the same thing, more or less).

When Geisler sticks to Evangelical Thomism, few can compete with him.  His take on causality, analogy, and being is one of the few essential takeaways from this book.

Geisler’s “Twelve Points” is the outline of his apologetic thrust.  They are helpfully outlined here.:

  1. Truth about reality is knowable.
  2. Opposites cannot both be true.
  3. The theistic God exists.
  4. If God exists, then miracles are possible.
  5. Miracles can be used to confirm a message from God.
  6. The New Testament is historically reliable.
  7. The New Testament says that Jesus claimed to be God.
  8. Jesus’ claim to be God is confirmed by miracles.
  9. Therefore, Jesus is God.
  10. Whatever Jesus (who is God) teaches is true.
  11. Jesus taught that the Bible is the Word of God.
  12. Therefore, it is true that the Bible is the Word of God (and anything opposed to it is false).

Analogy, Principle of. Analogy is based in causality. A cause communicates itself to the effect.  Being communicates being. “The cause of being must be a Being. It cannot give what it don’t got.” Analogy between God and creation is based in efficient causality. We are like God because Actuality communicates actuality, but unlike God we have limiting potentiality.

Principality of Casuality

  1. Every effect has a cause.
  2. Every contingent being is caused by another.
  3. Every limited being is caused by another.
  4. Everything that comes to be is caused by another.
  5. Nonbeing cannot cause being.

No potency for being can actualize itself, for it would have to have been in a previous state of actuality.

Edwards, Jonathan.  Used a good cosmological argument.  Some problems concerning panentheism and an overly rigid view of free choice.  No one is moved to act unless God acts on him.  We act according to our free desire.  This self-destructs when applied to Satan and the angels, for it seems God would have to have given them their desire for sin.

First Principles

These are so good I am probably going to write them in the cover of my bible.
B means being;

Bn means Necessary Being;
Bc means contingent being;
-> means causes;
-/> cannot cause;
Act means actuality;
P means potentiality (or potency).

  1. B is or exists (principle of existence)
  1. B is B (principle of identity)
  2. B is not non-B (principle of non-contradiction)
  3. Either B or non-B (principle of excluded middle)
  4. Non-B -/> B (principle of negative causality)
  5. B-/Bc (principle of contingent causality)
  6. Bn-/>Bn (principle of impossible causality)
  7. Bn->Bc (principle of positive causality)
  8. Bc is (exists) (principle of contingent existence)
  9. Bn is (exists) principle of necessary existence)
  10. Act is Act (with no potency) (principle of pure actuality)
  11. Bc is act/potency (principle of potency)
  12. Act ->act/potency (principle of analogy
  13. Act is similar to act
  14. Act is different from potency
  15. Bn is not (principle of negative attributes)
  16. finite (= is infinite)
  17. changing (=is immutable)
  18. temporal (=is eternal)
  19. multiple (= is one)
  20. divisible (=is simple)
  21. Bn is (principle of positive attributes)
  22. actual
  23. intelligent
  24. personal
  25. good
  26. truth
  27. Beautiful

Geisler’s take on creation/flood is interesting.  He holds to Old Earth (or rather, the strongest argument for YEC don’t obtain because there are gaps in the genealogies).  On the other hand, he holds to a global flood.

Hardening of Pharaoh

This isn’t as against Calvinism as it might seem.  Our scholastic fathers held to free choice and that God doesn’t work mechanically against our wills.  If that is true, then we shouldn’t have to big a problem with Geisler’s conclusion that God doesn’t harden initially, but subsequently; not directly, but indirectly; not against free choice, but through free choice; not as to the cause, but as to the effect.

Hinduism. Some comments. The only way I could know that all is an illusion is by using my senses.  These same monists tell us to use our senses to listen to their lectures or read their books.

If illusionism is true, how could I know it?

Gospel witnesses:  The gospels couldn’t have been myths because not only do myths not develop in under a generation, but myths also do not develop while the eyewitnesses are still alive.

Bart Ehrman on the manuscripts’ having errors: if we apply the same reasoning to his own books, we note that his first edition had sixteen errors.  One hundred thousand copies were pritten.  This means he made 1.6 million errors, but that is silly.

First Law of Thermodynamics.  The point isn’t that energy can’t be created or destroyed.  It isn’t making a statement about the origin of the universe.  Energy remains constant, albeit the usable energy decreases.

Van Til. We’ll end the review with his critique of Van Til.    CVT says that for Aquinas God’s existence is only probable, whereas Aquinas said it was rationally necessary (ST 1a., 2, 3). Aquinas would believe with CVT that truth depends ontologically on God.  Yet CVT never fully realized that finite man must ask how he could know.  CVT confused the order of knowing with the order of being.

Even worse, if the unbeliever experiences everything with a “jaundiced eye,” how would he ever understand Van Til, since the rules of logic and grammar are being experienced differently?  CVT seemed to see this tension (IST, 15).  It gets worse, though. If the unbeliever with his jaundiced eye cannot account for creation, then he’s off the hook since there is no way for him to suppress a truth that he doesn’t even understand.


Unfortunately, Geisler holds to some form of the subordination of the Son.  To be honest, I think he is just confused, for he first anchors the subordination in the economy.  However, he does use the unstable category of “function.”  There is no evidence, though, that he is using this model to drive a particular view of male-female relations.  He might in other books, but not here.  What makes it more frustrating is that his overall Trinitarianism and Doctrine of God is so good.

History of Christian Doctrine vol 1 (Shedd)

Shedd, William G. T. A History of Christian Doctrine volume 1. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, [reprint] 1998.

Shedd’s Dogmatic Theology was a literary and theological masterpiece.  His History of Christian Doctrine, while quite excellent, is not at the same level.  Most of the difficulty is Shedd’s a) trying to do too much in the first volume; and b) spending an inordinate amount of time on the history of prolegomena.  Shedd’s strengths are in the doctrine of God and Anthropology.  He isn’t able to devote his time to them until much later (and in case of the latter, the next volume).  Nonetheless, Shedd gives us much to think about and ably summarizes thorny philosophical debates. 

(1) Much of the early history of doctrine is necessarily tied in with apologetics (and one should note, classical apologetics). Not surprisingly, these were often aligned with various Greek schools.  That was inevitable.  The trick was to untangle oneself from problematic implications of Platonism.  As man then was more inclined to accept things like “the eternal” and “soul,” the apologist had an easier time of it, especially on the relation between faith and reason (Shedd 157).

(2) As we move into the modern age, one is surprised that in attacking Hume and Deism, Shedd didn’t spend more time annihilating Hume’s faulty reasoning on miracles.  We’ll return to that.

(3) As Christian reflection developed, their minds generally illustrated more refinement and sophistication.  Shedd notes that the pre-Nicene fathers’ arguments “rest mainly upon the innate consciousness of the human mind” (229).  This makes sense.  They didn’t have the scientific discoveries that would have allowed them to fully weaponize natural theology.

(4) Anselm and the ontological argument.  

  1. A Perfect being is necessarily conceivable because a contingent being is not the most perfect we can think of.
  2. Perfect islands do not claim to have “necessity of existence.
    b1) This is so because necessity entails an objective correspondent to itself (232)
  3. There is a logical contradiction in supposing the non-existence of a necessary being.
  4. Gaunilo’s objection fails because it confuses the category of matter for the category of mind.
  5. Kant’s objection that existence is not an attribute also fails because the point is not more existence but necessary existence.

5) God’s attributes.  “They sought to keep clear of that vague idea of an abstract Monad without predicates” (241).  This is the god of the Gnostic abyss and pantheism. “Attributes like…holiness, justice, truth, and mercy enter little, or none at all, into the ancient Gnostic and the modern Pantheistic construction of God” (242).

Appeals to pagan “Trinities” are irrelevant since they are usually figurative personifications and not distinct hypostases.

6) Ante-Nicene Trinitarianism relied heavily on the Logos concept.  To be noted, simply because John used Logos does not mean that he was using it in the same way that current Greek philosophy used it.  John would have been more familiar with the Ha-Debar of the Hebrew writings.  In any case, Logos-Christology fell into disuse compared with the concept of “Son.”

7) Nicene Trinitarianism.

  1. The Son as Logos must be eternal, otherwise God would have been without his Logos (308).  This is a rhetorically powerful argument but it is open to the charge of equivocation.
  2. Eternal generation is the communication of an eternal essence (317). If the Son is of the eternal substance of the Deity, he cannot be a contingent being.
  3. The Arians separated God’s will from God’s nature and so denied eternal generation (325 n1).
  4. If God is Father, then paternity and filiation belong to the deity of necessity (332).
  5. If created things cannot be created directly by the deity, “and must come into existence through a middle Being, then the Son (a creature ala Arius), would need a mediator to his creation.  And this medium would require a medium, and so on” (333).

8) God and consciousness.  While “self-consciousness” is not how we define a divine person, there is an analogical way to speak of it in terms of the Godhead.  On a human level,

  1. The I must behold itself as an objective thing. In doing so, there is now a distinction between the subject-ego and the object-ego.
  2. The finite ego must perceive the subject-ego and the object-ego are one and the same essence.  “This second act of perception completes the circle of self-consciousness” (366).
  3. There is no need for a subsequent factor because the first moment perceived the self as object but the last moment perceived an act.
  4. Of course, this would only apply to the divine once we remove categories of time and degree.  In which case,
  5. The subject-ego (Father) is perpetually beholding itself as object-ego (The Son) and the third distinction (The Holy Spirit) is intermittently perceiving the essential unity and identity of the subject-ego and object-ego (Father and Son).
  6. If this seems too speculative, rest assured that Jonathan Edwards did something similar.

The first half of the book reads like a history of method.  The second half is more properly a history of doctrine.

Jonathan Edwards: Freedom of the Will

I thought I had a book review of this somewhere, but I can’t find it. Edwards’ work is an impressive treatment that anticipates some key issues in analytic theology.


  1. Will: that by which the mind chooses anything (1.1).
    1. Act of will: act of choosing.  JE identifies volition with the prevailing act of the soul; what other writers call “voluntary.”
    2. Determined: under some influence to a fixed object.
  2. Thesis: it is that motive which, as it stands in the view of the mind, is the strongest that determines the will (I.).

Necessity of consequence:  while JE plays fast and loose sometimes with terms, what he says makes sense, nonetheless.   There is also a weaker type of necessity, accidental necessity.

  • Part 1
  1. Thesis: a man never wills anything contrary to his (greatest apparent) desire (section 1).
  2. Section 2: Determination of the WIll
    1. A will is determined when its choice is directed to a fixed object. Motive is that which excites the mind to volition. For Edwards “understanding” is the whole faculty of perception.
  3. Section 3: Necessity
    1. A thing is necessary when it cannot be otherwise. Necessity is a fixed connection between things (e.g., the subject and predicate of a proposition).  Contingency is when something has no previous connection.
  4. Section 4: Moral Necessity and Inability
    1. Moral necessity is the certainty of the will itself.  Edwards’ argument seems to be that it is impossible for the will to act contrary to its greatest inclination. This impossibility is the moral inability.
    2. Moral inability is the want or defect of an inclination.  Being able is not the same thing as being willing.  I can have the faculty/capacity to do x, yet never actualize it.
  5. Section 5: Concerning the Notion of Liberty and Agency
    1. Liberty is the power to do as one pleases.  It doesn’t belong under the category of “Will,” but agency.  Agents are free, wills are not.

Part 2: Is there a such thing as Arminian Liberty?

  1. Inconsistency
    1. If the Will determines all its free acts, then every free choice is determined by a preceding act of choice.
    2. JE sees a chain of causes in each act of the will.  The key question: is this first act of the Will free or not?  If it is free (in the sense of uncaused), then we have an uncaused Cause (God).  If it isn’t free, then the Will is not free.
  2. Is the Will active or passive?
    1. If the Will is active, then the Will is determining other acts of the Will.  If passive, then in what sense is the will a determining factor?
    2. The very act of volition is itself a determination of the mind.
    3. Definition of a cause: an antecedent on which an event depends.
  3. Short essay on the Cosmological Argument.
  4. The soul, even if active, cannot be the subject of effects which have no cause.
  5. JE recaps his argument.
  6. Difficulties in the view that the will is uninfluenced
    1. This is like saying that the mind has a preference but at the same time it has no preference.
    2. To suppose the Will to act in a complete state of indifference is to assert that the mind chooses without choosing.
  7. Liberty of Will and Indifference
    1. On an Arminian gloss, indifference must be taken in an absolute sense. This is so because if the will is already inclined, then the choosing isn’t solely on the sovereign power of the Will.
    2. Is a self-determining will really free? How can the soul be both in a state of choice and a state of equilibrium?
    3. Does the mind suspend itself in a state of complete indifference?
  8. Liberty and Necessity
    1. Acts of will are never contingent.
  9. Connection between the Will and Understanding
    1. Every act of will is connected with the perceived good from the understanding.
  10. Volition and Motives
    1. Every act of will is excited by some motive.
    2. The motive is the cause of the will’s act.
    3. Volitions are necessarily connected with the motive.
    4. If the motives dispose the mind to action, then they cause the mind to be disposed; and to cause the mind to be disposed is to cause it to be willing; and to cause it to be willing is to cause it to will.
  11. God’s Foreknowledge
    1. Thesis: God has a certain foreknowledge of the voluntary acts of moral agents. These acts, therefore, are not contingent.
    2. If God doesn’t have knowledge of the future actions of moral agents, then the prophecies in general are without foreknowledge.
  12. God’s foreknowledge inconsistent with contingent actions.
    1. The voluntary acts of moral agents are necessary in the sense of connection or consequence.
      1. For example, past actions are now necessary.
      2. God’s foreknowledge, therefore, gives the actions a kind of necessary ground of existence.
      3. If something is indissolubly connected with a necessary event, it, too, is necessary.
    2. Therefore, there is a necessary connection between God’s foreknowledge and these events.
    3. Infallible foreknowledge proves the necessity of the event foreknown, but does not necessarily cause it.
  13. Recap of argument

Part III: Is Liberty inconsistent with moral excellency?

The Arminian objects that anything that is necessary cannot be morally praiseworthy.

  1. God’s nature and moral excellency are necessary but that doesn’t preclude His being praiseworthy.
    1. Indeed, it is commanded.
    2. On the Arminian objection, why should we thank God for his Goodness, since His good acts are necessary?
  2. Jesus was necessarily holy and couldn’t sin, yet he is praiseworthy.
    1. In this section Edwards upholds dyotheletism.
    2. God promised to preserve and uphold Jesus by his Spirit.
    3. The benefits of Christ’s obedience are in the nature of a reward.
  3. Moral necessity and Inability are consistent with blameworthiness because of the fact that God gives people up to sin.
    1. If coaction and necessity prove men blameless, then Judas was blameless for betraying Christ.
  4. Command and obligation to obedience are consistent with moral inability to obey.
    1. The Arminian says that the only good acts are when the will acts from a state of Indifference and equilibrium.  Yet, this runs into problems:
      1. If the soul doesn’t act by prior determining influences, then volitions are events that happen by pure chance.
      2. Laws require virtue and repress vice, yet a libertarian action is indifferent with respect to law.
      3. If liberty consists in indifference, then anything that biases the will destroys Liberty.
      4. Yet Scripture teaches that the Saint is most free when he obeys God.
    2. The inclination of a will is itself unable to change.  This would be like saying the mind is inclined otherwise than it is now inclined!
  5. Sincerity of Desires are irrelevant
    1. Men are already inclined or not inclined prior to the relevance of needing to be sincerely inclined.
      1. It is like saying a man should sincerely incline to have an inclination.
      2. Being sincere is no virtue unless it is being sincere towards a virtuous thing.
    2. But being sincere destroys the idea of a Will resting in a complete state of indifference.
  6. Liberty of Indifference is not Necessary to virtue but actually opposed to it.
    1. If indifference of Will is necessary to Virtue, then the heart must be indifferent to the virtuous act when it performs it!
    2. Therefore, there is no virtue (or vice) in habitual inclinations.
  7. Arminian notions of moral agency (indifference) are inconsistent with the influence of motives and Inducement.
    1. If the only good act is one springing from an indifferent will, then what is the point of using motives or promises?
    2. Motives bias the mind and destroy indifference.
    3. If acts of the will are incited by motives, then motives cause those acts, which means the will isn’t self-caused.
    4. If the soul has in its act no motive or end, then in that act it seeks nothing. It desires nothing.  It chooses nothing.

Part IV: Refuting Arminianism

  1. Essence of virtue, etc., lies in nature, not in Cause.
    1. We condemn or praise an act, not in its cause, but in the nature of the act.
    2. If we blame the cause of an act, then we have to ask why that Cause is evil, which moves the discussion back to a previous cause, and so on.
  2. Metaphysical notions of action and agency
  3. On necessity
    1. Strong connection between the thing said to be necessary, and the antecedents.
  4. Moral necessity consistent with praise and blame.
    1. When someone does wrong, it is because he is doing as he pleases, and we blame him for doing as he pleases.
    2. We do not speculate on the Causes of his actions (at least not immediately).
  5. Objections considered
    1. Necessity does not render endeavors to be vain, for we judge an endeavor based on the success of it, and not simply on the means.
  6. We are not fatalists.  Edwards admits he has not read Hobbes.
  7. Necessity of the Divine Will
    1. God wills necessarily, yet no one bats an eye at this.
    2. God necessarily acts in a way to exhibit the perfections of his Nature.
  8. Necessity of God’s volitions
    1. If presented between two objects, ex hypothesi, God will always necessarily choose between the fittest.
    2. JE then gives an amazing analytical theological discussion about the nature of identity.  
  9. Is God the author of sin?
    1. God is not the author of sin in that he is the agent of sin.
    2. Yet God does order the universe in such a way that sin does come about.  Even Arminians must admit this.
  10. Concerning sin’s first entrance into the world.
  11. On supposed inconsistencies.
    1. God’s secret and revealed will.
    2. Men are still invited to the gospel, even if God has secretly ordered the universe in such a way that men will not respond.
  12. On atheism and licentiousness
    1. JE’s apologetics: the doctrine of necessity is the only medium for proving the being of God.
  13. Are we too metaphysical? No.
    1. The being of God is metaphysically construed, and this is valuable for apologetics.
  14. Conclusion
    1. God orders all events.
  15. Appendix
    1. Liberty is the power that anyone has to do as he pleases.
    2. Moral necessity is the connection between antecedent things and consequent things.

A. A. Hodge: Outlines of Theology

While this book can never approach the grandeur of his elder, neither will it have the literary quality of Shedd, it probably surpasses them both in its usefulness to the teacher. Unlike Shedd, Hodge doesn’t get distracted by side projects.  However, not all of Hodge is equally strong.  

The book follows questions 1-39 of the Shorter Catechism, though not overtly.   Hodge is strong in every single area that today’s Young, Restless, and Reformed are weak.  In other words, Hodge is strong in a lot of areas.

Arguments for God

Contra Hume, and anticipating Plantinga and others, Hodge notes that “order and adaptation can only spring from an intelligent cause” (37).

Pantheism denies the moral personality of God, man, or both (51).

On The Bible

Contra Rome: When Paul uses tradition, he signifies “all his instructions, oral and written, communicated to those very people themselves, not handed down” (83).

“Romanists appeal to the Scriptures to prove that the Scriptures cannot be understood, and address arguments to private judgment of men to prove that private judgment is incompetent” (91).

Attributes of God

When we say God is infinite, we do not mean that he cannot be an object of knowledge, as though knowing him would place a limit.  Rather, infinity means there are no limitations which involve any imperfections whatsoever (133).

The divine attributes are the divine perfections (135).

There can only be one infinite being.   “If there were two infinite beings, each would necessarily include the other, and be included by it, and thus they would be the same, one and identical” (139).

Per God as spirit: “Spirit is that substance whose properties manifest themselves to us directly in self-consciousness” (140).

Knowledge of God: the mode of divine knowledge: God perfectly, individually, distinctly, and immutably knows all things.  He knows them through himself, through his own essence” (145).  God’s necessary knowledge is the act of the divine intellect, without any concurrent act of the divine will.  His free knowledge is his knowledge being determined by a concurrent act of his will.

Relation to moral action.  God’s knowledge of future contingents makes the events certain, but it does not rule out moral certainty of creatures (147).

Will of God: we reject the liberty of indifference applied to God.  The decretive will of God is God efficaciously purposing the futurition of events.

The Trinity

“Substantia, as now used, is equivalent to essence, independent being” (164). True enough, but substance implies accidents, whereas essence does not.  A subsistence is a mode of substance

He is skeptical of the Johannine Comma (177).

He sees “sons of God” in Gen 6 as “angels” (178).

Eternal Generation: eternal personal act of the Father.  He generates the person of the Son by communicating to him the whole indivisible substance of the Godhead (182).  It is a communication within the Godhead.

The Decrees of God

Immanent and intrinsic decrees are the generation of the Son and spiration of the Spirit

God’s decree doesn’t mechanically cause every event.  The decree provides in “every case that the event shall be effected by causses acting in a manner perfectly consistent with the nature of the event in question” (203).

When God decreed everything, he did so as a complete system, having its own internal causes and effects.  As a rational agent, I also act in relation to a complete system. God’s decree does not separate effects from causes and means. God’s decree makes the event certain in the future, yet “not as isolated from other events….but as dependent upon means and agents freely using those means” (212).


Nothing in Scripture says angels are completely destitute of all materiality; indeed, they took bodily form, ate food, and lodged in houses (252, referencing Gen. 18:8 and 19:3).


Contra Edwards: JE says that what we call “the course of nature is nothing separate from the agency of God” (Original Sin, IV, ch. 3).  This makes God the only real agent in the universe, and so logically involves pantheism.

When God chose his great end, he also chose innumerable subordinate ends; these are fixed; and he has appointed all actions and events in their several relations as means to those ends” (262).

“All events are so related together as a concatenated system of causes, effects, and conditions, that a general Providence that is not the same time special is as inconceivable as a whole which has no parts, or a chain which has no links” (266).

Moral Constitution of the Faculties of the Soul

The faculties of the soul are the capacity of the one agent (280).  We choose not to speak of the liberty of the will, but the liberty of the man willing.

Df. will = the faculty of volition, together with all spontaneous states of the soul (282).  It acts in accordance with intrinsic moral tendencies in the soul.

A man is morally responsible if he is in possession of his reason, and self-decided in his will (285).

Df. virtue = a peculiar quality of certain states of the will.  Its essence is that it obliges the will (286).

Turretin: the essential nature of liberty does not consist in indifference.

Man may act against motives, but never without motives (290).

God from eternity foreknows all the free actions of men as certain, and he has foreordained them to be certain (291).

Creation of Man

Pelagians believe that man was created with no positive moral character (302).

Original Sin

We deny that the corruption is physical (excluding possible effects).  Rather, it is purely moral and “biases the understanding” (325). It consists in a morally corrupt habit.  It leads to a schism in the soul (329).

“A universal effect must have a universal cause” (330).


The permanent affections in the soul govern the volitions, but the volitions cannot alter the affections (339).

Contra Traducianism

I don’t think Shedd had published his Dogmatic Theology yet, for had he then Hodge’s charges wouldn’t hold. Hodge thinks traducianists hold to a “pure realism, which is a “single generic spiritual substance which corrupted itself by its own voluntary apostasizing act in Adam.  The souls of individual men are not separate substances, but manifestations” of this single substance” (351-352). Hodge is here quoting his father (II: 251ff).  Both are mistaken on what realism entails. Human nature is a substance, not the property or quality of a substance (see Shedd, 469).  It is individualized in a concrete person.

The problem here is that Hodge is operating under a faulty notion of realism.  First, our human nature isn’t a manifestation of “humanity.” It is in fact a real human nature.  He wants to argue that since the traducianists think human nature can be divided or partialed out, then it is false.  Shedd responds that in the beginning, human nature became four instead of two (Shedd 490, modern reprint). Is that a partialing of human nature?  It seems to be, yet it also seems correct.  There is a constant “diminution of the primitive nonindividualized human nature when once its division and individualization begins by conception.”

Hodge later says that this is 1) Indefinite, 2) fails to explain moral responsibility, 3) assumes laws of natural development limit God’s agency, and 4) doesn’t explain why only the first sin is the one for which we are punished (364).

In response
1*) ?????
2) Again, it isn’t clear.  We are also guilty for our own individual sins.  Yet, we are also guilty for concupiscence, which came from Adam.
3) Again, I am not sure why he thinks that.
4) On everyone’s account, we are only guilty for Adam’s first sin.  

Guilt and punishment.  Guilt is just liability to punishment

The Person of Christ

Mediatorial actions pertain to both natures (381).

Do we worship the human nature?  We distinguish between the ground and object of worship.  The ground of worship is the divine Person, but we do worship the human nature alongside the divine (383). Strictly speaking, we don’t worship, either.  Worship terminates on the person.

Nature of the Atonement

Following his father, AA Hodge gives a lucid account on the nature of guilt and punishment.  A penal satisfaction concerns crime and person.  A pecuniary concerns debt and things.  The former terminates on the person of the criminal; the latter on the thing due (401).

Hodge also denies that “Christ suffered Hell.”  This charge comes up on the internet against Protestants.  Hodge specifically states  that “He did not suffer the same sufferings either in kind, degree, or duration, which would have been inflicted on them, but he did suffer precisely that suffering which divine justice demanded of his person standing in their stead.  His sufferings were those of a divine person with a human nature” (406).

Sin as macula is not laid on Christ.  Sin as reatus is (408).

Effectual Calling

Regeneration: it is a conversio habitualis seu passiva, “the change of character in effecting which the soul is the object, not the subject” (449). Conversion is the opposite.


Standard stuff here, but Hodge does a good job contrasting the Protestant and Romish views. 

Rome: we have a first justification for Christ’s sake. We then (maybe?) have a second one through and in proportion to his merit.

We regard justification as a judicial act, they an infusion of grace.  We say the merits of Christ are the ground of justification, they the merits are made ours by sanctification.  We say faith is the instrument.  They the beginning and root.

Dabney, Discussions vol 3

I reject what Dabney says on race.  He is wrong.  He’s also wrong on the Lord’s Supper.  I am simply reviewing this as it is part of a key moment in 19th Century American life.

We remember Dabney as a follower of Common Sense Realism.  This volume is best seen as an application of that philosophy. It spans anthropology, theology, social ethics, logic, and philosophy proper.  


Calvinists mean by “will” the whole subjective activities.  This includes disposition and subjective desires, both of which lead to volition (III: 221).  The important point for Dabney is that volition–the act of willing–must be cause or influenced by something.  The Calvinist finds the proximate cause in our disposition and subjective desires.

While he doesn’t expand the point, Dabney’s comments show that Calvinists do not believe that the will is corrupt.  Rather, “‘corruption of will’…means rather the conative movements preceding volition, rather than volition itself” (281). 

 Dabney reduces–and clarifies–Edwards’ argument to this:  Motives determine volitions.  But what are motives? The soul’s subjective desire is spontaneous.   As Dabney points out concerning the word “necessity:” if we suppose that the subject motive is present, the volition will not fail to rise (238).  Well then, does that mean we believe in “free will” after all?  Not quite.  The will may indeed act spontaneously, but the intellect directs it (237).  This isn’t fatalism because an intellect’s directing the will is another way of saying that the action isn’t random and mindless.

This discussion explains effectual calling and regeneration: In regeneration God efficiently produces the holy disposition which regulates, concurrent with a renewed intellect (acts as proximate cause), man’s volitions (227).

Common Sense Realism

While he doesn’t have a chapter on Common Sense Realism, he does helpfully define its basics in his last chapter.  He notes, “We have found that whenever we see properties we must believe in substances to which the mind refers these properties.  Wherever we see action going on we must believe in substantive agents” (575).  The strength of CSR is the conclusions one draws from negating it:  “If I were to doubt my own consciousness, I should have to doubt everything else, because everything I know is known to me only through the medium of this consciousness” (574-575).  Thus, CSR is not a set of neutral principles, pace the Van Tillian, but rather a mode of knowing.  

Social Ethics

We are quick to reject Dabney on slavery, but we must be careful that in rejecting his view on slavery, we do not fall prey to Jacobinism (atheistic French Revolution). His larger question:  “What is the moral ground of my obligation to obey the magistrate, whom yesterday, before he was inducted to office, I would have scorned to recognize as my master, to whom today I must bow in obedience” (302)? There are several answers to this question:  Hobbesianism (I must obey any official simply because he is an official), social contract theory, and biblical theory.

  The Hobbesian theory rests on incoherent presuppositions.  If “Bob” is my master today, but he is usurped by “Jim” tomorrow (which action most would call sinful, per Romans 13), then Jim is the divinely ordained master.  Repeat ad infinitum.  While I may have to give Bob-Jim obedience for conscience’s sake, it is obvious that if two contradictory men, both of whom claim post facto legitimacy, neither can claim the moral high ground.  There is no moral foundation. Thus, Hobbesianism is morally bankrupt.  

Dabney deals likewise with Social Contract Theory.  Before we continue with infidel theories, Dabney has an interesting and challenging discussion of church and state.  He gives a solid criticism of the 19th century Scottish church:  when you accept government money, you have to accept the conditions the government lays down for having the money (325).  

Unlimited Rights Incompatible with Scripture

The Jacobin theory of rights asserts that no one in society may have a right and privilege that the other doesn’t have and you cannot impute the consequences of one to the other (and the reasoning is the same:  one man cannot be “above” the other in representing him).  

Dabney, following the Larger Catechism (Q. 124), says that we have obligations to inferiors, superiors, and equals.  Our functions and privileges differ, but the same law protects our common rights (Dabney 499).  We have different relations within society.  

Even more embarrassing for modern man, “God distributed the franchises unequally in the Hebrew commonwealth” (504).  And all of this leads Dabney to his comments on slavery.  We might not like them, but we must deal with what the Bible says. 

Even more, the Hebrew commonwealth has those who are neither domestic slaves nor fully enfranchised citizens.  Is that unjust? Dabney continues with a few more reductios.


This is not easy reading, but the essays do follow a logical pattern.   While we may not accept all of his conclusions, this is a remarkable snapshot of cultural life in the postbellum South.

Jonathan Edwards on Original Sin

This isn’t really an exegetical defense of Original Sin as it is an extended book review on Dr Taylor’s works.  There is some exegesis, and Edwards does make a few good comments on concreated holiness, but the real fireworks are at the end.

Identity with Adam: mankind has a “constituted connexion” with Adam as an acorn does with an oak (IV.II. n). Edwards acknowledges, but does not develop, a federal principle in Adam. In this same section Edwards affirms creationism as opposed to traducianism.

Edwards’ conclusion is that Adam’s posterity is one with him (IV.III).  It is a “constituted oneness or identity.” This allows him to solve the problem of imputation.  “By the law of union there is a communion and co-existence of acts” between Adam and his posterity (see note).  That’s his imputation: “his posterity are viewed in the same place with their father.”

Edwards pays a high price for his doctrine of imputation.  Strictly speaking, nothing is imputed. If I do something, you don’t impute my doing the act to me.  I simply did it.  Likewise, since Edwards has identified Adam and his posterity, his posterity just as equally did the act.  There is nothing to impute.

Edwards tries to get around these problems of identity by using analogies of body/soul, tree/acorn.  He takes Locke’s theory of identity as “sameness of consciousness” and adds a new twist.  Personal identity depends on a law of nature, namely the “sovereign will and agency of God” (p. 223 in the Banner of Truth edition).  Here is his argument:

(1) Personal identity depends on God’s constitution.

(2) God continually upholds and preserves his creation.

(3) Our dependent existence is an “effect and must have some cause” and the cause is either an antecedent cause or the power of the creator.

(4) It cannot be an antecedent cause because no passive thing can create a cause in space and time that is greater than itself, and so must pass out of existence. If it is out of existence it cannot create a new cause.

(5) “Therefore, the existence of created substances, in each successive moment, must be the effect of the immediate agency, will, and power of God”. 

(5*) New exertions of divine power are needed to keep things from dropping into nothing.

But isn’t Edwards simply saying that God upholds things every moment, and if God didn’t exist, they wouldn’t?  No.  He goes on to say:

(6) God is “causing its existence in each successive moment.”  In fact, he says this is “altogether equivalent to an immediate production out of nothing, at each moment” (224).


There are some major problems with this.  If God’s reconstituting humanity at each new moment does all the heavy lifting, then why is there any need for a metaphysical oneness with Adam?  Couldn’t God just view it like that?  Oliver Crisp points out that “Divine fiat is doing all the explanatory work” (Jonathan Edwards Among the Theologians 121).  Further, it appears that not only is God recreating the world at every moment, he is creating sin at every moment.  This is a fatal price to pay.

Unfortunately, I think JE paid too high a price.  He must surrender either his view of Original Sin or his view of the Will.  In the latter he said that each moment’s prior state was the cause of the next state.  But here he seems to say that the antecedent cause has no real existence.  If it doesn’t, then it can’t cause the next state, pace Freedom of the Will.

Oliver Crisp has raised yet a bigger problem: if God is recreating me each moment, and I am a sinful human, then is God creating evil and sin each moment?


Review: Paul Helm, Human Nature from Calvin to Edwards


Paul Helm Human Nature Calvin Edwards

If all Paul Helm had done were to marshal quotes showing the Reformed commitment to substance dualism, he would have done the church an inestimable service. He has done more. He has analyzed these thinkers as they were in conversation with the oncoming modern ontologies represented by Descartes, Locke, and Hobbes. This book is one of a kind and will repay constant readings. In fact, I think you could teach an entire ethics course from his chapter “Morality and Agency.” A key part of this book (and this review) examines the minor in-print debate between Paul Helm and Richard Muller on whether Jonathan Edwards departed from the Reformed tradition on free agency. I do have some criticisms of Helm that I will offer towards the end, but they do not detract from the value of this book.

Purchase Book Here.

Most Christians agree that body and soul aren’t the same thing. Christian reflection in general, and Reformed in particular, however, went a step further. The soul has faculties and powers. This modified Aristotelianism (and only in a modified form) allowed post-Reformation theologians to maintain individual responsibility while being faithful to the Scripture’s teachings on man’s fallenness.

Helm begins with a brief survey on the Patristic and medieval periods. By Patristic he means Tertullian and Augustine. I suppose that is inevitable. Other Western fathers don’t have Augustine’s depth of thought and the East had minimal impact. It is strange that Helm doesn’t mention the role of traducianism. It’s also strange that for all their Augustinianism, the Reformed didn’t really hold to traducianism. Of course, for that reason Helm doesn’t have to mention it. Nonetheless, traducianism allows the substance dualist to address challenges from neuroscience in ways that the creationist view of the soul does not.

Thomas Aquinas

The soul informs the body. When the body dies, many of the soul’s powers “hibernate.” While the soul is not the person, in this state it carries the identity of the person until the resurrection (15).

The intellect is “a possessor of collective powers related in incredibly complex ways between itself and the memory, will, and affections” (16). Specific to Thomas’s claim, and a claim the Reformed (and Roman Catholics) would generally maintain until recent times, was that the “soul itself acts via these various powers” (20).

Free Will Controversy, Part One

In his debate with Pighius, Calvin uses “voluntas” to mean both the Augustinian “heart” and the choice a man makes (34). In order to clear this confusion, Helm focuses on Calvin’s happy phrase that the fall is “adventitious” on human nature, not essential to it.

Body and Soul

Helm breaks new ground in this section. Despite the differences and nuances of the various Platonisms and Aristotelianism of the post-Reformation period, all thinkers to a man held that the soul is not reducible to the body. They would have heartily rejected the Christian physicalism of some thinkers today.

The Faculties and Powers of the Soul

Key idea: “The soul has a range or array of powers which the mind groups as certain activities of the understanding, and others as certain activities of the will” (81).

Flavel: the will is sovereign over the body but not over other faculties of the soul. In regeneration the will does not disturb conversion but is also changed by divine power (87).

Free Will Controversy, Part Two

Man’s free will is indexed to different states of man (e.g., fourfold state). According to the post-Reformation thinkers, man’s “Freedom” relates to spiritual activity. Man’s liberty relates to the capacities of our faculties.

Faculty Psychology

Powers of the soul are intrinsic to one faculty or another and they may be shared. Habits are acquired by nature or grace (105). As Flavel notes these are properties of faculties, not further faculties. When we die, certain habits are reduced to mere dispositions.

Morality and Agency

Aristotle didn’t have a concept of the conscience. This is a distinctly Jewish or Christian phenomenon. For the Reformed scholastics the conscience is a kind of “second-order reflex, telling us what we know about ourselves.” Further, it “binds” the understanding (112).

Free Will Controversy, Part Three

The fall had a “modal effect” on man, “establishing what it was possible and impossible to do hereafter” (134). We sin because we do not have the sufficient will not to sin. We have a natural liberty that “is essential to the will and all its acts.” Our moral ability to do the good, unfortunately, “is only accidental and separable” (136).

Did Edwards’ use of John Locke change how later Reformed discussed the soul and its faculties? There were some changes along the lines of personal identity, but Edwards himself seemed familiar with the subject and didn’t change too much. He leaned more towards Platonism than hylomorphism, but still remained a substance dualist.

Even Edwards’ distinction on natural and moral ability isn’t that novel. He merely sharpened some observations made by Owen and others. Edwards sees our inability along a spectrum (216). As Helm notes, “A natural ability is ability in its proper sense and the moral abilities are secondary” (217).

There are some changes, though. Scholastic faculties become “powers of the heart.” Does this change anything? Richard Muller seems to think it does. Helm disagrees. I think I side with Helm. It’s not immediately clear, either way.

*Reformation Heritage kindly provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

Paul Helm: Faith and Understanding

Image result for paul helm faith understanding

This book isn’t a smooth narrative, as I am not always sure how each chapter connected with the others.  With that said, Helm anticipates some of the “Narrative ethics” fads and communal epistemology, and brings several pointed rejoinders to them.  And the chapter on Jonathan Edwards is an analytical feast.

Understanding and Believing

Helm’s interlocutor is D.Z. Phillips.  The main is relatively unfamiliar, but Phillips anticipated the current craze about communal epistemologies.  As Helm puts it, “For Phillips religion is essentially a practice or set of practices, a way of life, and the beliefs that are religious are identified by such practices, and can only be understood in relation to, this form of life” (Helm 65). This is almost word for word the theology of James K. A. Smith.  

So what is the problem with it? We can try to list several:

1) It is impossible to critique any other position, as one would necessarily be outside that position and not sharing in its liturgical practices.
2) We do not have so much a religion, but a set of religious practices.
2.1) What about prayer?  This is the most basic of religious practices.  Yet, as Helm notes, could we even expect an answer to prayer, since that would involve empirical issues (69ff)?  Indeed, petitionary prayer “connects the activity and value of religion with how things go.” 

Edwards on Original Sin

Edwards raises the problem of identity through time.

  1. Temporal part: an individual thing which exists only for a moment.
  2. Personal identity for Locke: principle of consciousness.

JE, however, will advance several radical claims: “nothing exists for more than a moment” (Helm 157).  Edwards writes, “The existence of created substances, in each successive moment, must be the effect of the immediate agency, will, and power of God” (Edwards, Original Sin, 400).

Original Sin

  1. “A series of momentary parts, qualitatively similar in important respects, is treated by ourselves and God as if it were numerically one thing” (Helm 163).

The payoff, if at a steep price, is obvious:  God can count us guilty for Adam’s sin because in some way (??) we are identical with Adam.  As it stands, though, this argument won’t work. JE needs to posit an identity without collapsing me into Adam. But before we prove that, JE will make another claim:

  1. God recreated x each moment. JE might not be saying this.  It is a stronger version of (2) above, as he says an “antecedent existence is nothing,” which means my continuing existence isn’t because of my prior moment’s existence.

3*. Adam is constituted the root of the human race by virtue of a real union with the world of mankind (Helm 169). JE can now say that there is a real union, a real imputation which isn’t a legal fiction, yet we aren’t pantheistically connected.

Unfortunately, I think JE paid too high a price.  He must surrender either his view of Original Sin or his view of the Will.  In the latter he said that each moment’s prior state was the cause of the next state.  But here he seems to say that the antecedent cause has no real existence. If it doesn’t, then it can’t cause the next state, pace Freedom of the Will.

Oliver Crisp has raised yet a bigger problem: if God is recreating me each moment, and I am a sinful human, then is God creating evil and sin each moment?  (I got in a Facebook debate with some Clarkian Reconstructionists who held to this view.  They denied that JE taught it.  JE did.)

But even with these problems, this was a fine chapter and a fine book.

Dabney on Sensualistic Philosophy

(Please don’t get started on Dabney or racism.  He had the same bad views on race like everyone else in America, North or South, at the time.  I condemn his racism as much as I condemn the racism of Lincoln or Sherman.) I am only posting this because of his discussions on faculty psychology as they relate to Edwards studies).

Dabney anticipates modern debates. He sees in the “Sensualists” modern Neo-Atheism. His response is an early, if inchoate, form of Alvin Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism. As Dabney sees it, the danger is if man is nothing but atoms, how can there be the existence of a soul, mind, will, or even God? Of course, many physicalists today deny precisely that, so sometimes Dabney’s reductios fall flat. His arguments are worth exploring, nonetheless.

Positive statement of the thesis: human intelligence is a pure rational spirit, not a bundle of senses (Dabney 12). He sees the beginning of Sensualism in Thomas Hobbes, where desire is “sensation transmuted.” And against later empiricists such as Locke, they confuse the occasion of the genesis of ideas with its cause (22).

Not every chapter is of immediate relevance. Dabney–as well as his opponents–were working with very limited understandings of science. Dabney’s true genius, rather, lies in his discussions of mind and soul. “The mind is a distinct spiritual substance” which is part of the common sense of mankind (107). And in defending the validity of a priori notions, he writes, “Our minds are validly entitled to intuitive cognitions gained apart from sense-experience (159). Concerning the origins of a priori notions, Our notions are determined from within our mind and not by a posteriori causes (182). Dabney even anticipates the idea of “properly basic beliefs” (he calls them ‘primitive judgments’). It is a judgment that does not depend on prior premises, whether deductive or inductive.

Dabney even anticipates modern rebuttals to empiricism and scientism. Sensual Empiricism is self-refuting. The claim “the mind derives all its ideas from sensation” is itself a non-sensory derived statement (185)! How can the empiricist make a universal judgment about cause-effect without seeing all examples? The mind, by contrast, makes immediately active judgments. When we see a succession of events, our mind automatically sequences them regardless of whether we have empirically verified the prior concept of “succession.” It just happens (shades of Thomas Reid!). Indeed, we have Properly basic beliefs (1st principles, etc) which cannot be conclusions of observations because “they must be in the mind in order to the making of any conclusions” (189).

Dabney and Free Agency

Dabney notes that the reformed system is not fatalistic or deterministic. He argues, “the grand condition of moral responsibility is rational spontaneity (211). The sensualist, by contrast, volitions are the effects of desires, and desire is sense-impression reappearing in reflex form.” The object of our choosing is the inducement to volition and the motive is the subjective cause. Motives arise from subjective reflections (214).

Volitions are free, yet they often have a uniformity of quality that we can predict them. This uniformity is what the Scholastics called habitus, the permanent subjective law of man’s free agency. Freedom is more than the liberty to execute volitions. The soul is self-determining. This is not Pelagianism, though. We are not saying the faculty of will is self-determining. The soul has its own regulative law of action. This regulative law is its dispositions. This fact coexists with the fact of consciousness.

Wherein consisteth man’s free agency? We maintain that the soul is the self-determining power. We reject the idea that the will is in perpetual equilibrium (and here Edwards’ critique is accurate).


This book is hard-sledding. Some of it will not be relevant to the Christian theist today. A lot of Dabney’s reductios assumed that even his opponents will agree to the idea of “mind” or “soul.” This is not the case today. Further, some atheists can even hold to property-dualism, which does not reduce all to matter (e.g., holds to mental states). On the other hand, though, the book is an outstanding presentation of the traditional doctrines of the mind, soul, and free agency.