SGBC Modesto

Freedom of the Will

March 28, 2024 by

William Heinrich

Jonathan Edwards in his brilliant essay “The Freedom of the Will” states that “all men have the freedom to do whatever they please given their choices. Men will choose, but their choices are determined by their desires.” Augustine put the subject this way, “We have the freedom to choose one thing or another, but the ability to choose only what we want.” R.C. Sproul reminds us, “Man is free but only God is sovereign and autonomous (a law unto themselves). If man is autonomous then God cannot be sovereign. Since God is sovereign then man’s freedom, though real, is limited.” He continues, ” If God’s sovereignty is limited by human freedom, then it is man and not God who is sovereign.”

Historically the subject has always been debated. Luther debated with Erasmus, Calvin with Arminius and Edwards with the Armenians of his day. Pelagius argued the fall of Adam only effected Adam and did not pass on a sin nature to all born from him. Therefore, man is totally free to choose good or evil. Augustine argued the fall produced the loss of true liberty in which man no longer desires the things of God and will never choose God without divine help. Pelagianism was condemned by the church but was revised later by Charles Finney. Today most evangelical churches have promoted a semi-pelagian concept that the fall did to some extent bring corruption to our nature but the will is still able to accept or refuse this offer of grace. Augustine, Calvin, Edwards, Luther and the church of the 17th and 18th century believed that for the sinner (all mankind) to respond by faith in the gospel, God must first do a work of grace that effects man’s soul causing him to desire it.

The question is: can everyone without divine intervention choose Christ of their own volition? The answer is they can choose Him, but they won’t want to because of sin’s corruption and influence on their nature; thus, they simply are not able. So God chose us before we chose Him. God granted us faith before we exercised faith. We have a free will but God must effect us sovereignly and graciously to make us willing.