Thoughts On The Will


J. H. Oliphant



I trust that I may not write so as to offend any one, and I beg our brethren not to feel unkind if I present views somewhat different from theirs. I am sure this is an intricate subject and requires care to understand it. I am sure that those who have not most patiently inquired into this matter are not prepared to give an intelligent opinion concerning it. So now let our readers peruse these pages patiently, and kindly, and not condemn any position until it is clear that it is false; and then I beg that the reader do this in kindness. I have with sorrow of heart, observed how easily offended we are if a brother differs from us; even as to the use of a word; although we agree as to the principles involved, we are so sensitive as to be hurt if others do not use the same words we do. I have tried to lay aside this spirit and love my brethren although they may use different words to express their views.

In these pages I design to quote freely what others have said on this subject and try to arrive at truth so clearly and unmistakably as to unite our dear brethren and edify the readers.

The will is defined to be choice. To will a thing is to choose that thing. So far as I have examined, all our dictionaries define the will as the choice; the act of the mind in choosing or preferring. The word "will" is used in other senses ; but the first and leading use of the word is choice, wish, desire, etc.

Some writers try to distinguish between the will and the desire, but I believe there is no important distinction between the two words. There is an important distinction between choosing a thing and the taking it into possession. We may choose an object that we never take possession of; but when we do really take possession of an object, it is safe to say the mind first willed, or chose, that object. The act of willing is an act of the mind or soul, and not an act of the hand or foot.

We sometimes choose between two things, both of which are repulsive, as in this: we choose bitter medicine rather than disease; "of the two evils we choose the least."

Some speak of perceiving, judging, willing, etc., as so many faculties of the mind. If we accept this, it would still be the mind choosing by the faculty of the will. I think better to accept the definition of the word as given by Webster, and, in fact, all the dictionaries I have seen, will is choice, to will is to choose, though I am not disposed to insist on this point.

If you will substitute the word choice, or wish, or desire, for will, where it occurs in the Bible, it will nearly always make good sense, and this is evidence that the word "will" means choice, or choose, in those texts. "If any man will be my disciple"-chooses to be my disciple. "Whosoever will"-that is, whosoever chooses. "Not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man"-choice of the flesh or choice of man. "Not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth"-him that chooseth, etc. The reader can see that the will and the choice are the same. The will and wish never run counter to each other. The will, wish and desire are never contrary to each other, but the same.

Men maybe hindred from obtaining those things which they choose, but they cannot be hindered from choosing; that is, they cannot be hindered from desiring or wishing for things, although they can be hindered from securing or procuring those things.

In the above texts the will is referred to, but there is no reference to how the will came to be as it is. For instance in the text, "Whosoever will," the reference is only to those who are willing, and nothing as to how they came to be willing. I will not now say anything as to this matter, but leave it to some future article. I hope the above definition will be satisfactory to all the readers.

I wish, in concluding this article, to make some inquiry as to the distinction between a human being and an inanimate, or irrational, being. A stone is not susceptible of being governed by moral law, because it is incapable of voluntary action, and while an animal is capable of voluntary action, he is not capable of choosing one course because it is right, or rejecting another course because it is wrong. He is not capable of vice or virtue, but man is. There is an important difference between a human being and these things, and on account of this distinction he is suspectible of being governed by moral law-the laws of our country, or the discipline of the family or church, as well as the law of God, or the precepts of the gospel. It is proper that we consider the distinction between a human being and other creatures. In addressing men through papers, books, sermons, etc., we recognize an important difference between human beings and stones or animals. These are not in possession of will, nor are they capable of voluntary action, while human beings are. If they were not, we would not address them in any way. I think we will never arrive at any correct notion concerning the will unless we understand this distinction. We must not regard man as a territory about which two armies are contending, as passive and not capable of choosing anything.

In addressing men we recognize that they are capable of choosing in regard to the matter. If they are not, it would be needless to address them. I repeat, we must not regard men as incapable of voluntary action. We must distinguish between men and stones, or we will fail to understand the will.

I hope the above definition and this distinction will be understood and approved by all.


Thoughts On The Will. J.H. Oliphant. Press of Moore & Langen Printing Co. 1899. Pages 5-9.