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  • « Best Books for Parenting & Best Children's Books | Main | Kings and Priests of the Whole World »

    Does the Natural Man Have Free Will or Not?

    Some reformed theologians say that man has a "free will" and other theologians say that he does not? Confused?

    The ones who say the natural man has a "free will" mean by this that man is free to do what he wants according to his fallen nature. A voluntary choice that is not coerced. We can agree with their concept, but even these Reformed theologians who say man has a free will would openly acknowledge that man's will is free only to do evil, but his WILL is not free to do good -- and I say in response to this that if the will is not free to do good it is not free in the only thing that counts when discussing the subject. Because when you talk about free will it is almost always with regard to sin and salvation... not free will in some general sense. The question is whether the sinner is "free" to choose Christ or not? No, he is not. He is by nature hostile to God (Rom 8:7), loves darkness and hates the light (John 3:19, 20). This is the only thing we are discussing when the topic of free will comes up. no? Fallen men and women are not dragged unwillingly into sinning, but because their will is held captive under the yoke of sin they do evil of necessity.

    The will is corrupt and therefore, of necessity, chooses evil. And if it is of necessity that they act this way and not another, then the will is not free. Freedom in the Bible is almost always referring to freedom from sin. For example... Jesus says, "everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.(John 8:34-36). The Bible never speaks positively about the will being bound to sin and always speaks positively about the will being bound to God, in fact it calls this kind of slavery "freedom" in a positive sense. Jesus never once refers to being free from God and a slave to the devil as a positive thing. The only freedom Jesus declared as good and something to hope for was freedom from bondage to sin and a slave to God.

    While I understand what the some Reformed folks mean when they say man has a "free will" but I think, at worst, we may be using the phrase "free will" on our libertarian opponents terms or, at best, present a confused picture since with regard to Christ, sin and salvation, which is the Bible's core focus, we all believe man's will is not free. Even an Arminian would acknowledge that the very need to grace does away with free will altogether. For no man can come to Christ apart from grace (John 6:65)

    Posted by John on September 3, 2011 03:05 PM


    i am very weak in my knowledge of Jonathan Edwards. But did he believe that man had Free Will? Didn't he believe we had Free Will, but lost lost our Liberty to choose God?

    Or did you address this in your post?

    If Edwards were alive today, how do you think he would respond to your post?


    Hi and thanks for your post. Traditionally the concepts were often differentiated by the terms "free will" and "free agency". JI Packer has a short piece which shows the two

    I think Edwards might want to clarify. We do have a free will. Edwards said, "...[man] has liberty to act according to his choice, and do what he pleases..." (Freedom of the WIll pg. 256)
    However, he did not believe in libertarian free will, that is, a will that was self-determined.

    He would say a man's will is free in the sense that he has the ability to choose what he wills, but what a sinner wills is sin, and so that's what he chooses. It's the difference between moral and physical "necessity" or "inability"

    He illustrated it this way: You have two prisoners of a prince. The king calls the first to come to him and fall down before him in humilty and beg his pardon. He tells the prisoner that if he will do so he will be set free. In response the prisoner repents in his heart, but he is confined by his bars and is unable to comply.

    The second prisoner is "of a very unreasonable spirit, of a haughty, ungrateful, wilful disposition" and "has been brought up in traitorous principles". For his rebellion he is a prisoner. The prince comes to him in compassion, orders his chains to be knocked off and his prison doors be set wide open. He tells the prisoner that "if he will come forth to him, and fall down before him, acknowledge that he has treated him unworthily, and ask his forgiveness, [then] he shall be forgiven, set at liberty and set in a place of great dignity and profit in his court"

    But the second prisoner is "full of haughty malignity that he cannot be willing to accept the offer". "The opposition of his heart has the mastery over him, having an influence on his mind far superior to the king's grace and condescension." He is also unable to comply

    Edwards says both people's choices were fixed in a certain sense, but our will is free and bound in the sense of the second prisoner, not the first.

    Basically, we are free to do what is most desirable to us. However, what is most desirable to us has already been determined by the sin we are born in: Sin is always more desirable to the unregenerate than God. So he will never choose God.

    (Prisoner example on pg 246-247 of Freedom of the Will by Jonathan Edwards published by Soli Deo Gloria Publications)


    What Edwards called "free will" theologians today generally call "free agency". When Edwards says we make choices according to our corrupt nature. He means that we make that choice voluntarily but not coerced, which is right. But if we can only choose evil of necessity, that is what Calvin and Luther called "bondage of the will". The following are three quotes from Spurgeon, Calvin and Luther which I think are helpful.

    "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

    “I frankly confess that, for myself, even if it could be, I should not want ‘free-will’ to be given me, nor anything to be left in my own hands to enable me to endeavour after salvation; not merely because in face of so many dangers, and adversities and assaults of devils, I could not stand my ground …; but because even were there no dangers … I should still be forced to labour with no guarantee of success … But now that God has taken my salvation out of the control of my own will, and put it under the control of His, and promised to save me, not according to my working or running, but according to His own grace and mercy, I have the comfortable certainty that He is faithful and will not lie to me, and that He is also great and powerful, so that no devils or opposition can break Him or pluck me from Him. Furthermore, I have the comfortable certainty that I please God, not by reason of the merit of my works, but by reason of His merciful favour promised to me; so that, if I work too little, or badly, He does not impute it to me, but with fatherly compassion pardons me and makes me better. This is the glorying of all the saints in their God” - Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will (Grand Rapids: Revell, 1957), 313-314.

    man has choice and that it is self-determined, so that if he does anything evil, it should be imputed to him and to his own voluntary choosing. We do away with coercion and force, because this contradicts the nature of the will and cannot coexist with it. We deny that choice is free, because through man’s innate wickedness it is of necessity driven to what is evil and cannot seek anything but evil. And from this it is possible to deduce what a great difference there is between necessity and coercion. For we do not say that man is dragged unwillingly into sinning, but that because his will is corrupt he is held captive under the yoke of sin and therefore of necessity will in an evil way. For where there is bondage, there is necessity. But it makes a great difference whether the bondage is voluntary or coerced. We locate the necessity to sin precisely in corruption of the will, from which follows that it is self-determined. (John Calvin, BLW pp 69, 70)

    The concept of “free will” was most probably developed to support the “justness” of the reprobation, especially by those interpreters who need to reconcile God’s sovereignty with so called human “responsibility,” it seems to appear that some theologians think that they are able to defend the “justness” of the situation in which man’s guilt needs to be established for not making a decision for God, even though as they say a man is not capable of making such a choice on its own accord. This is another logical contradiction I do not see explained cogently in any available sources.

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