The Need for Grace Does Away with Free Will Altogether
"The Need for Grace Does Away with Free Will Altogether" is the title of our new eBook. But is the title of the eBook an overstatement? Apparently some brothers seem to think so. After posting the book I received the following comment quoting the WCF:
Visitor: "God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty, that is neither forced, nor by any absolute necessity of nature determined, to good or evil." Westminster Confession of Faith, IX:i
My Response: [yes] for Adam. Yet the fall turned freedom into necessity. In the same chapter of the WSF it also says, III. Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation:(d) so as, a natural man, being altogether averse from that good,(e) and dead in sin,(f) is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.(g) So while his will is not forced or coerced, now does evil by necessity, due to his own corruption of nature. peace to you
Visitor: John Paragraph one of Chapter 9 in the WCF does not apply simply to Adam - it is a confessional statement about the constitution of man as man. The very chapter heading is "Of Free Will." The doctrine of free will has historically been pivo...tal and maintained in Reformed theology. It needs to be defined, of course, but the confession affirms it. I am pushing back on the title above: "The Need for Grace Does Away with Free Will Altogether." Altogether? We overstate the case when we deny 'free will." Man's will is bound to his nature and as you stated, does evil by necessity. Just because we reject "libertarian free will" doesn't mean that we reject the biblical concept of man's natural liberty of will / free agency. Berkhof, Calvin, Hodge, Grudem, etc. are all going to speak in some sense of man's free acts and choices. Man, even fallen man has the ability to act on choice, he is free to choose as he desires - and this is why the confessional language of "neither forced" nor determined by "any necessity of nature" are crucial. Men are free, there could not be human responsibility and accountability if this were not the case. Grudem, "We must insist that we have the power of 'willing' choice; otherwise we will fall into the error of fatalism or determinism and thus conclude that our choices do not matter, or that we cannot really make willing choices." Errors on the opposite extreme may be just as dangerous as those we fear on the other. Man's will is enslaved, yes - bound to his sinful nature - yet free to choose as he wills, with real responsibility for those choices.
Peace to you as well my brother. I'm sure that our convictions are not far from each other, but I do think we need to be careful about discarding a concept like "free will" just because others misrepresent or misdefine it. Over-correction is an ever present danger; the misuse of something or the abuse of something does not nullify it's proper or legitimate use.
My Response: I could not disagree more. What you mean to say perhaps is that we have a will, and that is can and does act voluntarily. But it is not free. FAR FROM IT. Freedom from coercion yes, but not freedom from necessity. The kind of "free... will" you are talking about is a philosophical concept, not the Bible. The Bible defines freedom relative to sin. Those who are in a fallen state are in bondage to a corruption of nature and, last time I looked freedom and bondage are contrary concepts.
This has always been the way it was discussed historically in the church.
Of course we are responsible to obey the command to repent and believe the gospel. In the Divine economy men are responsible to believe the gospel, but are morally impotent to do so (when drawing from their own native resources). This inability (due to our intimate solidarity with Adam's sin) is something we are culpable for, much like owing a debt we cannot repay. So God has every right to call us all to account to 'repay our debt', so to speak, even though fallen man does not have the resources or will to do so. The Church has a privilege and an obligation to call all men to repent and believe the gospel (an imperative) but, left to themselves, no one believes. But God, in his great mercy, still has mercy on many, opening their hearts to the gospel that that might believe.
To this sometimes a synergist often quotes "whosoever will may come" to which we reply that this quote does not teach an indicative of what we are able to do, but rather, teaches what we 'ought' to do. As Martin Luther said, "Does it follow from: 'turn ye' that therefore you can turn? Does it follow from "'Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart' (Deut 6.5) that therefore you can love with all your heart? What do arguments of this kind prove, but the 'free-will' does not need the grace of God, but can do all things by its own power...But it does not follow from this that man is converted by his own power, nor do the words say so; they simply say: "if thou wilt turn, telling man what he should do. When he knows it, and sees that he cannot do it, he will ask whence he may find ability to do it..." Luther BW,164
you see Martin Luther understood the will in the same way I do. And this is the same way Calvin and others also understood. That is why it is important to define UP FRONT by asking "FREE FROM WHAT?"
Here is a quote from Spurgeon as well which shows how the term has been used in church history. I think the modern use of the term is a confused way of speaking about it.
"Free will I have often heard of, but I have never seen it. I have ...always met with will, and plenty of it, but it has either been led captive by sin or held in the blessed bonds of grace." - C. H. Spurgeon
That is why "the need for grace does away with free will altogether" is no overstatement. For apart from grace, and apart from the Holy Spirit, does the natural man have a free will to believe the gospel? No, he is in bondage to sin. That is why Jesus says "If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." (John 8:36) -- In other words, apart form the Son setting you free, you are not free but in bondage, a slave to sin.
Now look back at the part of the confession you quoted. It says, "the will of man with that natural liberty, that is neither forced, nor by any absolute necessity of nature determined, to good or evil."
It was never forced, but now (after the fall) it is evil by necessity of nature. So the quote is specifically speaking of a pre-fall man. Post fall man DOES sin "by any absolute necessity of nature." That is why the next line of the confession (as I have shown) shows the result the fall had on the will.