"Of Free Will"

A. A. Hodge

Section I: God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty, that it is neither forced, nor, by any absolute necessity of nature, determined to good, or evil.[1]

  1. James 1:13-14; 4:7; Deut. 30:19; Isa. 7:11-12; Matt. 17:12; John 5:40

This section teaches the great fundamental truth of consciousness and. revelation, which renders moral government possible -- that man, in virtue of his creation, is endowed with an inalienable faculty of self-determination, the power of acting or not acting, and of acting in the way which the man himself, upon the whole view of the case, desires at the time. There are only three generically different views upon this subject possible: --

  1. That which regards the actions of men as caused directly by outward circumstances and occasions, under the same great law of necessity which governs the movements of all material agents.
  2. That affected by the Arminians and others, which regards the will in man, or his bare faculty of volition, as possessing o, mysterious capacity of self-determination, irrespective of all the judgments of the understanding and the affections of the heart and the entire state of the man's soul it the time.

  4. That which is taught in this section -- namely, that the human soul, including all its instincts, ideas, judgments, affections, and tendencies, has the power of self-decision; that is, the soul decides in every case as, upon the whole, it pleases.

That the first-stated view is not true is proved -- (1.) From the universal consciousness of men with respect to their own action, and observation of the action of other men. We are all conscious of possessing the power of determining our own action irrespective of any or of all external influences. In every case of deliberate choice we are conscious that we might have chosen the opposite if we had wished to do so, all outward circumstances remaining unchanged. We see that all material substances act only as they are acted upon, and in the same conditions invariably act in the same way. But, on the other hand, we see that our fellow-men, like ourselves, possess without exception the power of originating action; and that, if they please, they act very variously under the same circumstances. Circumstances, including the sum total of conditions and

relations, control the action of all material agents, while personal agents control circumstances.

(2.) The same is proved by the fact that man is held responsible alike by his own conscience and by God for his own action. This evidently could not be the case if his action were caused by circumstances, and not freely by the man himself.

That the second view, which supposes that a man possesses the power to choose without respect to his judgments or inclinations is not true; and that the third view, which supposes that a man possesses the inalienable faculty of choosing as upon the whole he judges right or desirable, is true, are proved --

(1.) From the consideration that while we are conscious, in every deliberate act of choice, that we might have chosen otherwise, all the external conditions being the same, we always feel that our choice was determined by the sum-total of our views, feelings, and tendencies at the time. A man freely chooses what he wants to choose. He would not choose freely if he chose in any other way. But his desire in the premises is determined by his whole intellectual and emotional state at the time.

(2.) It is plain that if the human will decided in any given case in opposition to all the views of the reason and all the desires of the heart, however free the will might be, the man would be a most pitiful slave to a mere irrational and immoral power of willing.

(3.) All men judge that the rational and moral character of any act results from the purpose or desire, the internal state of mind or heart, which prompted the act. If the man wills in any given case in opposition to all his judgments and to all his inclinations of every kind, his act in that case would obviously be neither rational nor moral; and the man himself, in respect to that act, would be neither free nor responsible.

(4.) If the human soul had the power to act thus irrespective of its entire interior intellectual and emotional condition at the time, such action could neither be foreseen nor controlled by God, nor influenced by men, and such exercise of volitional power would be absolutely fortuitous. It would sustain no certain relation to the character of the agent. Christ taught, in opposition to this, that human action is determined by the character of the agent as certainly as the nature of the fruit is determined by the nature of the tree from which it springs; and that the only way to change the character of the action is to change the permanent character or moral tendency and habit of the heart of the agent. Matt. vii. 16 -- 20; xii. 33-35.

Section II: Man, in his state of innocency, had freedom, and power to will and to do that which was good and well pleasing to God;[2] but yet, mutably, so that he might fall from it.[3]

2. Eccl. 7:29; Gen. 1:26, 31; Col. 3:10 3. Gen. 2:16-17; 3:6, 17

Section III: Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation:[4] so as, a natural man, being altogether averse from that good,[5] and dead in sin,[6] is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.[7]

4. Rom. 5:5; 8:7-8; John 6:44, 65; 15:5 5. Rom. 3:9-10, 12, 23 6. Eph. 2:1, 5; Col 2:13 7. John 3:3, 5-6; 6:44, 65; I Cor. 2:14; Titus 3:3-5

Section IV: When God converts a sinner, and translates him into the state of grace, he freeth him from his natural bondage under sin;[8] and, by his grace alone, enables him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good;[9] yet so, as that by reason of his remaining corruption, he doth not perfectly, nor only, will that which is good, but doth also will that which is evil.[10]

8. Col. 1:13; John 8:34, 36; Rom. 6:6-7 9. Phil. 2:13; Rom. 6:14, 17-19, 22 10. Gal. 5:17; Rom. 7:14-25; I John 1:8, 10

Section V: The will of man is made perfectly and immutably free to good alone, in the state of glory only.[11]

11. Heb. 12:23; I John 3:2; Jude 1:24; Rev. 21:27

These sections briefly state and contrast the various conditions which characterize the free agency of man in his four different estates of innocency, hereditary sin, grace, and glory. In all these estates man is unchangeably a free, responsible agent, and in all cases choosing or refusing as, upon the whole, he prefers to do. A man's volition is as his desires are in the given case. His desires in any given case are as they are determined to be by the general or permanent tastes, tendencies, and habitudes of his character. He is responsible for his desires, because they are determined by the nature and permanent characteristics of his own soul. He is responsible for these, because they are the tendencies and qualities of his own nature. If these are immoral, he and his actions are immoral. If these are holy, he and his actions are holy.

When we say that man is a free agent, we mean (1.) That he has the power of originating action; that he is self-moved, and does not only move as he is moved upon from without. (2.) That he always wills that which, upon the whole view of the case presented by his understanding at the time, he desires to will. (3.) That man is furnished with a reason to distinguish between the true and the false, and a conscience to distinguish between the right and the wrong, in order that his desires and consequent volitions may be both rational and righteous; and yet his desires are not necessarily either rational or righteous, but they are formed under the light of reason and conscience, either conformable or contrary to them, according to the permanent habitual disposition or moral character of the soul itself.

  1. Adam in his estate of innocency was a free agent, created with holy affections and moral tendencies; yet with a character as yet unconfirmed, capable of obedience, yet liable to be seduced. by external temptation, and by the inordinate excitement of the propensions of his animal nature, such as in their proper degree and due subordination are innocent. Of this state of a holy yet fallible nature we have no experience, and consequently very imperfect comprehension.

2. As to man's present estate, our Standards teach -- (1.) That man is still a free agent, and able to will as upon the whole he desires to will. (2.) That he has likewise ability to discharge many of the natural obligations which spring out of his relations to his fellow-men. (3.) That his soul by reason of the fall being morally corrupted and spiritually dead, his understanding being spiritually blind, and his affections perverted, he is "utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil " (Conf. Faith, ch. vi., section 4, and ch. xvi., section 3; L. Cat., q. 25); and hence he "hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation;" so that he "is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself," or even " to prepare himself thereunto." Conf. Faith, ch. ix., section 8. The same view is taught in all the Protestant Confessions, Lutheran and Reformed.

Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England, Art. 10: " The condition of man after the fall of Adam is such, that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and good works, to faith, and calling upon God: wherefore we have no power to do good works pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us, that we may have a good will, and working with us when we have that good will."

Articles of Synod of Dort, chap. iii., Art. 3: "All men are conceived in sin, and born children of wrath, indisposed to all saving good, propense to evil, dead in sins and the slaves of sin; and without the grace of the regenerating Holy Spirit they are neither willing nor able to return to God, to correct their depraved nature, or to dispose themselves to the correction of it."

Form of Concord, p. 579, Hase's Collection (Lutheran): " Therefore we believe that as it is impossible for a dead body to revive itself, or to communicate animal life to itself, in the same degree is it impossible for a man, spiritually dead by reason of sin, to recall spiritual life within himself." lb. p. 653: "We believe that neither the intellect, heart, nor will of the unregenerate man, is able of its own natural strength either to understand, believe, embrace, will, begin, perfect, perform, operate, or cooperate anything, in things divine and spiritual; but man is so far dead and corrupt in respect to good, that in the nature of man since the fall, and before regeneration, there is not even a scintilla of spiritual strength remaining whereby he can prepare himself for the grace of God, or apprehend that grace when offered, or is able in whole or in half, or in the least part, to apply or accommodate himself to that grace, or to confer or to act, or to operate or to co-operate anything for his own conversion."

By liberty we mean the inalienable prerogative of the human soul of exercising volition as it pleases. In this sense man is as free now as before the fall. By ability we mean the capacity either to will in opposition to the desires and affections of the soul at the time, or by a bare exercise of volition to make oneself desire and love that which one does not spontaneously desire or love. We affirm that liberty is, and that ability in this sense is not, an element of the constitution of the soul. A man always wills as upon the whole he pleases, but he cannot will himself to please differently from what he does please. The moral condition of the heart determines the act of the will, but the act of the will cannot change the moral condition of the heart.

This inability is -- (1.) Absolute. Man has no power, direct or indirect, to fulfill the moral law, or to accept Christ, or to change his nature so as to increase his power; and so can neither do his duty without grace, nor prepare himself by himself for grace. (2.) It is purely moral, because man possesses since the fall as much as before all the constitutional faculties requisite to moral agency, and his inability has its ground solely in the wrong moral state of those faculties. It is simply the evil moral disposition of the soul. (3.) It is natural, because it is not accidental, but innate and inheres in the universal and radical moral state of our souls by nature; that is, as that nature is naturally propagated since the fall. (4.) It is not natural in the sense of belonging to the nature of man as originally formed by God, or as resulting from any constitutional deficiency, or development of our natural moral faculties as originally given by God.

That this doctrine is true is proved -- (1.) From direct declarations of Scripture: "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil." Jer. xiii. 23. "No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him......No man can come unto me, except it be given unto him of my Father." John vi. 44, 65; Rom. ix. 16; 1 Cor. ii. 14. (2.) From what the Scriptures say of man's state by nature. It is declared to be a state of " blindness " and "darkness " and of " spiritual death." Eph. iv. 18; Col. ii. 13. The unregenerate are the "servants of sin" and "subject to Satan." Rom. vi. 16, 20; 2 Tim ii. 26; Matt. xii. 33 -- 36. (3.) From what the Scriptures say of the nature and the universal and absolute necessity of regeneration: " Except a man be born again, he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven." John iii. 3. It is called a new birth, a new creation, a begetting anew, a giving a new heart. John iii. 3, 7; Eph. ii. 10; 1 John v. 18; Ezek. xxxvi. 26. In this work God is the agent, man is the subject. It is so great that it requires the "mighty power" of God. Eph. i. 18 -- 20. All Christian duties are declared to be " the fruits of the Spirit." Gal. v. 22, 23. (4.) From the experience of every true Christian. (5.) From the consciousness of every convinced sinner. The great burden of all true conviction is not chiefly the sins committed, but the sinful deadness of heart and aversion to divine things, which is the root of actual transgression, and which remains immovable in spite of all we do. (6.) From the universal experience of the human race. If any man has ever naturally possessed ability to perform his spiritual duties, it is certain that no one has ever exercised it.

3. As to the estate into which the regenerate are introduced by grace, our Standards affirm -- (1.) The regenerated Christian remains, as before, a free agent, willing always as upon the whole he desires to will. (2.) In the act of regeneration the Holy Spirit has implanted a new spiritual principle, habit, or tendency in the affections of the soul, which, being subsequently nourished and directed by the indwelling Spirit, frees the man from his natural bondage under sin, and enables him prevailingly to will freely that which is spiritually good. And yet, because of the lingering remains of his old corrupt moral habit of soul, there remains a conflict of tendencies, so that the Christian does not perfectly nor only will that which is good, but doth also will that which is evil. These points will be discussed under chapters x. and xiii.

4. As to the estate of glorified men in heaven, our Confession teaches that they continue, as before, free agents, but that, all the remains of their old corrupt moral tendencies being extirpated for ever, and the gracious dispositions implanted in regeneration being perfected, and the whole man being brought to the measure of the stature of perfect manhood in the likeness of Christ's glorified humanity, they remain for ever perfectly free and immutably disposed to perfect holiness. Adam was holy and unstable. Unregenerate men are unholy and stable; that is, fixed in unholiness. Regenerate men have two opposite moral tendencies contesting for empire in their hearts. They are cast about between them, yet the tendency graciously implanted gradually in the end perfectly prevails. Glorified men are holy and stable. All are free, and therefore responsible.

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