Chapter 9: Of Free Will
I would like to take a look at the freedom of will endued to us by God. Is it libertarian free, which most of the non-Reformed find essential for love? Is it another kind of freedom? Does our freedom mean that God is not Sovereign? Does God ordain our free actions? These are some questions that we’ll have to wrestle with. For this study and my position on it, I am greatly indebted to the following authors:
- Jonathan Edwards – The Freedom of the Will
- R.C. Sproul – Willing to Believe - both the book (see review) and also the video series
- Thaddeus J. Williams – Love, Freedom, and Evil: Does Authentic Love Require Free Will?
Calvinists have always been leveled the charge that our understanding of God’s absolute micro-managing sovereignty makes men as puppets and robots. One wonders what the reason was for the Westminster, Savoy and 1689 to offer a chapter on free will if they thought that people were merely puppets and robots as many critics like to mock Calvinism.
In section 1, we will have our longest discussion of the will. There, I hope with Edwards’ Freedom of the Will, to lay the understanding of the human will as believed by Calvinists, which I believe happens to be biblical and logical. I have chosen to do this for two purposes: 1) I want to understand Edwards' position better first hand from him. Edwards is difficult to read and understand and sometimes you have to read sentences and paragraphs over and over or look somewhere for an explanation to understand what he's getting at. 2) And I would like you to understand Edwards’ position on the will which is the commonly held view by Calvinists. In the following sections, we will try to lay some things concerning man's will in the four states, from innocence until glory.
§1 God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty and power of acting upon choice
- God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty and power of acting upon choice, that it is neither forced, nor by any necessity of nature determined to do good or evil. 1
- Matt. 17:12; James 1:14; Deut. 30:19
God Ordains Human Actions
From chapter 3 it is clear that God is sovereign and ordains even human actions. Therefore the freedom spoken of here is not autonomous freedom.
Section 1: God hath decreed in himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably, all things, whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby is God neither the author of sin nor hath fellowship with any therein; nor is violence offered to the will of the creature, nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established; in which appears his wisdom in disposing all things, and power and faithfulness in accomplishing his decree. (See commentary)
His sovereignty, orchestration and ordaining extends to all things whatsoever comes to pass, the good and the bad. Chapter 5 which speaks of God’s providence is even clearer on this:
The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God, so far manifest themselves in his providence, that his determinate counsel extendeth itself even to the first fall, and all other sinful actions both of angels and men; and that not by a bare permission, which also he most wisely and powerfully boundeth, and otherwise ordereth and governeth, in a manifold dispensation to his most holy ends; yet so, as the sinfulness of their acts proceedeth only from the creatures, and not from God, who, being most holy and righteous, neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin.
If even the evil actions of men are under His control how much more the good actions? For the case that God ordains and is sovereign even over the evil actions of men and yet holds them accountable, see chapter 3 section 1 where I try to argue just that from the biblical texts. Consistent with what the Confession said in chapters 3 and 5, the freedom spoken by the 1689 is not a freedom of will from God’s sovereignty, but freedom of will within God’s sovereign decree.
Edwards on the Will
R.C. Sproul, in Willing to Believe, presents Augustine as having taught the following four conditions of the will:
- Posse non peccare is the possibility not to sin. This is what Adam and Eve had when they were originally created by God.
- Posse peccare is the possibility to sin. This Adam and Eve also had prior to the Fall.
- Non posse non peccare is the impossibility not to sin. These all the descendants of Adam until freed by Christ have.
- Non posse peccare is the impossibility to sin. This is what those in Christ will have in the eternal state.
Points 1 and 2 concern the State of Innocence (section 2). Point 3 is for those under the State of Sin (section 3). Point 4 is for the State of Glory (section 5). Those who are redeemed in Christ are not fixed in any one point, but find themselves in points 1-3.
The Nature and Determination of the Will (Part I, section I-II)
But what is freedom in the Calvinistic sense then? What do we mean when we speak of freedom of choice? Many agree that none better than Edwards has defended the Freedom of Will as understood by Calvinists:
And therefore I observe, that the Will (without any metaphysical refining) is, That by which the mind chooses any thing. The faculty of the will, is that power, or principle of mind, by which it is capable of choosing: an act of the will is the same as an act of choosing or choice.
If any think it is a more perfect definition of the will, to say, that it is that by which the soul either chooses or refuses, I am content with it; though I think it enough to say, it is that by which the soul chooses: for in every act of will whatsoever, the mind chooses one thing rather than another; it chooses something rather than the contrary or rather than the want or non-existence of that thing. So in every act of refusal, the mind chooses the absence of the thing refused; the positive and the negative are set before the mind for its choice, and it chooses the negative; and the mind’s making its choice in that case is properly the act of the Will: the Will’s determining between the two, is a voluntary determination; but that is the same thing as making a choice. So that by whatever names we call the act of the Will, choosing, refusing, approving, disapproving, liking, disliking, embracing, rejecting, determining, directing, commanding, forbidding, inclining, or being averse, being pleased or displeased with; all may be reduced to this of choosing. For the soul to act voluntarily, is evermore to act electively. Mr. Locke (1) says, “The Will signifies nothing but a power or ability to prefer or choose.”
The will is the faculty by which the mind makes the choice between options. The will’s determination is not forced by outside forces, but is voluntary by nature. Edwards is not speaking of coercion, but of the soul choosing according to its pleasure. By determining or determination of the will is meant that the choice is thus and not otherwise. Edwards says:
By determining the Will, if the phrase be used with any meaning, must be intended, causing that the act of the Will or choice should be thus, and not otherwise: and the Will is said to be determined, when, in consequence of some action, or influence, its choice is directed to, and fixed upon a particular object. As when we speak of the determination of motion, we mean causing the motion of the body to be in such a direction, rather than another.
This is the idea that we would have gotten even without the definition of the phrase. But, says Edwards, if we say that the will is determined then we must ask what determined the will. The determination of the will is an effect which supposes a cause. The cause, which makes the will to be determined to one choice rather than another, is the motive. There is cause and effect relationship between the motive and the will. The choice that the soul makes is in accordance to its desires, this means that every choice has a reason. Nothing that we choose is without motivation or reason. Edwards says, “A man never, in any instance, wills any thing contrary to his desires, or desires any thing contrary to his will.” But what then determines the will to one thing rather than another, is it chance, is it fate? No, it is the person itself, or to be more precise–the motive:
that motive, which, as it stands in view of the mind, is the strongest, that determines the will. But may be necessary that I should a little explain my meaning.
By motive I mean the whole of that which moves, excites, or invites the mind to volition, whether that be one thing singly, or many things conjunctly. Many particular things may concur, and unite their strength, to induce the mind; and when it is so, all together are as one complex motive. And when I speak of the strongest motive, I have respect to the strength of the whole that oper...