Thoughts On The Will


J. H. Oliphant



"What things soever the law saith it saith to them who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped and all the world may become guilty before God, for the invisible things of Him from the creation * * * are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse." The foundation of our accountability does not grow out of the gospel and its provisions, but out of the law. Our relations to God as creatures to a creator, and our entire dependence on Him for life and all that is necessary to life, "for in Him we live," and "He giveth life and breath to all," His mercies pursue every day; all these demonstrate His right to govern and claim our obedience. His very greatness and excellency of character render Him infinitely worthy of the never ending praise of all His intelligent creatures, and that, too, without the gospel and its provisions. No doubt those who are blest with the gospel and its immense blessings are under additional obligations to God, but men's obligations exists independent of the gospel, and so their accountability and liability to the penalty of the law , all must exist had there been no gospel or provisions of it, and there is a sense of this in men, all men, "Who knowing that they which do such things are worthy of death, not only do them but have pleasure in them that do them." Men may be told of the law and its just claims, and of the penalty to be inflicted on sin in the next world, but all this is not sufficient to deter men from sin.

The ground upon which future punishment will be visited upon the wicked will not be because they were embraced in the atonement and failed to comply with conditions, nor for refusing to be born again, nor for refusing to be quickened, &c., but for their sins. Your sins and your iniquities have separated between you and your God. "Depart from me ye workers of iniquity." "They that have done evil to the resurrection of damnation." The notion that men must be given a chance of salvation before they can be justly condemned is childish. A nation that would adopt the plan of giving its criminals a chance to escape in order to make it just, and reasonable to punish them for their sins, would be a wonder among the nations of earth. Human government would die off of the face of the earth with such a procedure.

If the right of condemning the criminal does not exist independent of such a chance, the proper thing to do is not to give the chance to escape, but to set them free at once.

Arminianism presents us with a method of government for God which, if adopted among the nations of earth, would banish civilization from the globe. But we are sure that such is not the divine method of government.

Paul in speaking of the "New covenant" says, "not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt because they continued not in my covenant and I regarded them not saith the Lord." I call attention to the words. "They continued not in my covenant." This covenant proved disastrous to them, on account of the fact that they continued not in it. We may say they could have done so, that is they might have done so if they would. The were naturally able to do so, but the were not morally able to do so. A covenant that could fail for this reason would not save a single human being on all the face of the earth, because there is not one of the race morally able to "continue." So Paul mentions a remedial statute, one not liable to fail for the reason this one did, a remedial statute must provide a remedy for the weak place in the old, and so, the new one has the following clause in it "I will he merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more." Now a covenant with this last clause in it will not fail for the reason the old one did, nor will it fail on the account of the moral weakness of men. Moral inability is here provided against, and a system of salvation that is sure.

I would not have the reader understand that men will be saved in their sins but "from their sins." I mentioned in a previous chapter that one difference between Arminians and Calvinists lies in this, the former holds that moral force, teaching, exhorting, persuasion, &c., is sufficient to secure the salvation of men; the latter holds that a physical work on the soul is essential to salvation. This expression, "physical work on the soul," I have not seen often, but what is intended by it is that some work on or within the soul, not dependent on our wills or understanding, is necessary. Take the words, "except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." The word see, Campbell translates, discern. So this text teaches that the kingdom of God cannot be seen until we are born again. Seeing the kingdom cannot be a means of being born of God, because we must be born again before we can see it.

Now I shall insist that there is a work done for us, which is necessary to salvation, that is not the result of moral force.

And first in all those places where we are said to be born again, the verb is passive. "Being born again" does not denote action exerted by us, but action received by us, and this is true in every single text where being born again is expressed or referred to. It is unnecessary to cite all the texts where the new birth is mentioned, it is enough to say that every single text is so worded as to express action received and not action exerted, and I regard this as a strong argument supporting the position of Calvinists that there is something not produced by moral force essential to salvation. In the application of moral force we are active both in exerting this force and receiving it, whereas the new birth is "not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man," but if it were effected by moral force it would be of the "will of man," because in teaching the one must be willing to teach and the other must be willing to hear.

Second. It is nowhere made our duty to be born again, or to be quickened. Not one text makes it our duty to do either of these things. Many texts make it our duty to obey God, but not one makes it our duty to be born again or to be quickened.

Third, many texts show that there is some preparation necessary to enable us to understand spiritual things, and this fact when considered will show that moral force is not sufficient. "The eyes of your understanding being enlightened," &c., Eph. 1, 20. This text shows that the understanding must be enlightened before we can understand spiritual things. "The natural man receiveth not the things of the spirit for they are foolishness to him, neither can he know them."

There are many figurative expressions of that which prepares men for heaven. "Ye are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works." In creation that which is created is not in condition to consent nor refuse, or resist the operation. Adam in his first creation was not situated to consent or resist, to aid, or hinder the work, and now in as much as this preparation is called a "creation," we learn that it "is not of the will, of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." It is also called a "quickening" or a raising up. "And you hath he quickened," &c., "Who believe according to the working of his mighty power which he wrought in Christ when he raised him up from the dead."

Now if this work be performed by the same power that raised up Jesus from the dead there is no place in it for resistance or human assistance , no place for the will to take part. In raising Lazarus from the dead there could be no resistance on His part, and so in raising up Jesus from the dead there was no place for the will either to choose or refuse. So we see why Paul said, "It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth but of God that showeth mercy."

I could add many arguments to show that there is something necessary to salvation not produced by moral force, and hence produced in a way that is independent of will. To be born again is not an act connected with moral law, that is, it is not the performance of duty, for it is not our act at all, it is God's act, and independent of all men. It is not the performance of duty on God's part , because it is wholly of grace. It does not free us from the duties of moral law, it takes us from under the law as a covenant but leaves us under the law as a guide to our feet, it puts us under grace and under the parental law of God, under the discipline of the gospel where our disobedience will be attended with the rod, and our obedience with rest to our souls.

I wish to add a few thoughts here relative to the decrees of God, and their relation to the conduct of men.

If we accept the position that the will is "determined" and not self-determining, then we must see that for every volition there is a cause, so that the principle of cause and effect is as certain, as real, in the moral universe, as the natural. We who hold the "liberty of will" are charged with holding that chance and uncertainty prevails in everything pertaining to sin. We have seen that liberty of will is consistent with a determined state of the will, and this is consistent with the sentiment that there is a cause for every choice or volition of men. Indeed there is a cause for everything that exists but God. So chance and uncertainty have no place in the universe. We may apply the word chance to events when their cause is not known to us, but yet we know there is a cause for every event.

But to say that predestination sustains the same relation to evil that it does to good, is to teach that good and evil have the same origin. This is one objection I have ever had to the words, "Absolute predestination of all things," because whatever is intended by these words they will lead to the impression that evil is as absolutely and as efficaciously predestinated as good, and this will tend to minimize the difference between right and wrong, and to impress the mind that sin is a misfortune and not a fault, and this tends to destroy the sense of accountability, and this leads on to the utter and everlasting overthrow of the doctrine of grace. For, just so far as sin is a misfortune and not a fault, so far as there is any apology for it, or any mitigating circumstances connected with its origin, our salvation from it is not entirely of grace.

To vindicate grace, we must oppose every view of predestination that confounds or confuses good and evil, in their origin or operation. We must oppose every form and phase of Arminianism. We must oppose every form and phase of twoseedism, and the sentiment of the preexistence of God's people in Him as a seed.

As I look at the doctrine of grace, it cannot stand up in all its gigantic glory and beauty, and any of these sentiments be maintained.


Thoughts On The Will. J.H. Oliphant. Press of Moore & Langen Printing Co. Terre Haute, IN. 1899. Pages 98-106.