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"Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God." - Jonathan Edwards

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1689 Baptist Confession Chapter 9: Of Free Will - Commentary

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Chapter 9: Of Free Will

I would like to take a look at the freedom of will endued to us by God. Is it a libertarian free will, 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 (see review)
  • Thaddeus J. Williams – Love, Freedom, and Evil: Does Authentic Love Require Free Will?
  • Scott Christensen - What about Free Will?: Reconciling Our Choices with God’s Sovereignty

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 many 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 many Calvinists. Edwards is obviously not without critique, especially on his speculations about the Fall. But some Reformed people also disagree with him on free will, claiming that his view is too mechanistic and deterministic. His discussion clarifies many things for me and from the people I benefited from, who are mentioned above, I’ve not read their criticism on Edwards beside his speculations on the Fall. I mention this so that you know that not every Calvinist agrees with Edwards, though a majority does. Some resources on this subject are found at Reformed Books Online.

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

  1. God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty and power of acting upon choice, that it is neither forcednor by any necessity of nature determined to do good or evil. 1
    1. Matt. 17:12; James 1:14; Deut. 30:19[1]

The will of man, by definition and nature, is endued...with that natural liberty and power of acting upon choice. This is also one of those things which set us apart from the lower creation. Paragraph 1 does not speak about Adam’s will before the Fall; paragraph 2 will do that. Rather, in paragraph 1, the will of man is spoken of generally without reference to it being enslaved to righteousness or sin. It is by nature free. What does this freedom consist of? That is is neither forced, nor by any necessity of nature determined to do good or evil. Man is not a robot as many non-Calvinists like to caricature Calvinism. No one has done something because they were forced by God in their wills to do so. Rather, they ac...