Thursday, June 02, 2022

Joseph Truman's Discourse

 In a life time of reading and collecting books, I have some favourites. One

 of these is A Discourse of Natural and  Moral Impotency a small book

 by Joseph Truman. ‘late Minister near Nottingham’. He was born  in

 1630 educated at Clare College Cambridge lived in  Mansfield as a

 minister there, then lost his position in the Ejection of Puritans in 1662

 following the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660, following not

 reading common prayer and criticizing of the prayer book.  He lived

 then at Mansfield where he nonetheless attended the parish church

 there. He died at 1671, about 40.


He published several books, one of which is republished The Great Propitiation, Or, Christ Satisfaction and Man’s Justification by it upon his Faith that is Belief and Obedience to the Gospel Endeavored to be made Easily Intelligible….In some Sermons, preached by Joseph Truman (London, 1672), with that date published after his death).It is i. facsimile in EEBO Editions in the “Early History of Religion”,


One interesting fact about him was that he was friendly with Richard Baxter when a nonconformist, and this might that he may followed Baxter’s view of to a view of justification that is abased not only by faith in the Saviour, but is based on an individual’s piety. (There is no evidence of this in Truman’s  sermons on Christ’s propitiation. But consistency was not a  virtue of Baxter’s theology.)


His book on Natural and Moral Impotency  shows an informal style which has a number of features, which may be due to the influence of the elder man on him. It had a conversational style, informal, and open, though he exhibits sometimes complication. Nevertheless, he is interesting. The book came into a second edition, with  further material from his own hand before his death.  He shows familiarity with scholastic terminology, as well as with Westminster confession sources, and with jurisprudence . It is not surprising that his nonconformity  ‘was pleaded with the Justices, so well that he got off , though thevJustices were no great friends to Nonconformists’.


So the book can be read as an essay in  late Puritan anthropology, ‘the common sentiments of men’, and especially the human will. Truman is saying that to speak of impotency only with study of it.


This distinction of is of natural and moral of such  importance  in Divinity, that they that shall speak of the  Controversies hereby endeavoured  to be cleared  without keeping clear Notions, about this distinction, shall (though otherwise  learned Fathers and Doctors) speak like children concerning them; and also that men of understandings, keeping to this distinction, may competently satisfy themselves and others, if willing to be satisfied  in such Controversies as have posed the greatest wits and ‘Shollers’ [scholars] that keep to it.


He puts up two verses ‘You will not come to me that you have Life (John 5.40) ‘No man can come to me except the Father, which sent me, draw him, (John 6.44) These are both cases of impotency, moral impotency. The first is an inability to come to `Christ, the second is a case of moral inability, of inability to come to me unless the Father on the last day will raise him up on the last day’.


These cases do not refer to broken legs or blindness, but inwards inability, the sort that Paul in I Corinthians 2.14, ‘the natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, he is able to understand because they are spiritually discerned. ‘ Once again, a spirit that is impotency,

‘a natural person’ not a physical lack, but whose entire powers of human nature is lacking. Truman (3)says ‘that distinction well understood, which is much insisted on by the French Protestant Divines, would much conduce herein, namely, the distinction of Natural and  Moral Impotency.


Truman’s distinction between different inabilities and their natural and moral  kinds, involves questions of the law, which leads me to think that he was expert in it, and that it colors his discussion of the law in the matter of credit and debt, (10), and drunkenness (12-15) when drink may affect his reason, and a comparison to the wicked who do not. These legal discussions  etc. Truman adds a third text from John’s Gospel, this time John 8.43, Christ speaking ‘Why do you not understand what I say ? `It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do  your father’a desires..’ Truman goes on you are so wicked, you are of such Devilish qualities’. (20)


‘If they mean by these words, that the fault is, notwithstanding their Impotency, that they do not some other thing than that they some other thing than they have the have the Impotency to ;and so the meaning is. He hath as Impotency to something; but his fault is, that he doth not that which hath a power to do; and hath no Impotency at all to. First: This rather confirms what I am saying , yea overgoe’s me quite, as you will see. Secondly: This is no more to the purpose, than to say, A blind man is too blame for not hearing, because impotency is seeing, doth  not hinder his hearing; yet this is apparently the chief Part of the meaning of this saying, as it is applied by those that use it. (20-1)


This is Truman getting into his stride. It will be unfamiliar to those who are reading it for the first time. And I hope to reproduce  short passages from later on in the book. And if you come across  Truman’s Discourse, you will possess a little treasure.