Thoughts On The Will


J. H. Oliphant



Buck defines "Will" as follows: "That faculty of the soul by which it chooses or refuses any thing offered to it."

When man was created he had liberty and power to do what was pleasing in the sight of God, but by the fall he lost all ability of will to any spiritual good; nor has he any will to that which is good until grace enlightens the understanding, and changes the heart.

The nature of the will is in itself indisputably free."

Liberty can not properly be attributed to any thing that has no power, nor can liberty be attributed to any thing in a sphere of which it knows nothing. While the fish has liberty, all the liberty it wants, yet it would be absurd to say it has the liberty of the bird, because it knows nothing of the state of the bird nor has it a nature suited to the liberty of the birds. So a man spiritually dead while he has liberty, even all the liberty he wishes, yet spiritual things are beyond his powers, and so it can not be said that he has liberty in spiritual things. So Buck continues, 'Will, as will, must be free, or there is no such faculty.

But the human will being finite, hath a necessary bound, which indeed so far may be said to confine it, because it cannot act beyond it, yet within the extent of its capacity it necessarily is, and ever will be spontaneous, (free). The limits of the will therefore, do not take away its inherent liberty. The exercise of its powers may be confined, as it necessarily must, in finite being. But where it is not confined, that exercise will correspond. with its nature and situation."

I regard this explanation of will, by Buck as excellent. By "liberty of will" is not meant capacity of will, or the liberty of will is one thing, but the capacity of will is another. Liberty of will in the sinner does not denote that he has power to choose beyond and above his station, or nature.

Arminians confound his liberty and capacity, or rather they by "liberty of will" mean that the sinner not only is capable of choosing things in harmony with his being, but he has power to choose things above and beyond his capacity, and for which he has no affinity of nature or feeling, which notion is absurd and unreasonable. This being understood, it is easy to perceive man, in his fallen state, can only will according to his fallen capacities, and that however freely his volitions may flow, within their extent, he can not possibly ever pass them.

He therefore, as a sinful, carnal and perverse apostate, can will only according to the nature of his apostasy, which is continually and. invariably evil, without capacity to exceed its bounds, into good, purity and truth." When Buck says, "He cannot," we are not to understand that the sinner will desire to "exceed his bounds," and cannot. He is, even in his fallen state, capable of choosing, freely, whatever is agreeable to him.

Regeneration will not increase his liberty of choosing, but his capacity, or rather his capacity is transferred to holiness, and he still chooses as freely as before, or perhaps, in view of the fact that in his regenerated state, being one in which two natures oppose each other, and in the sinful state there is but the one nature. The choice may be attended with less obstruction in the sinful state than in the Christian state. However, if we adhere to the principle that the will is guided by the judgment, or is as the judgment is, we might say that the judgment is not so easily settled in the regenerated state as the sinful, on account of their being two opposing or conflicting natures in the Christian. "When I would do good evil is present with me." Men are not at liberty to sin in the sense they are licensed to do so nor are they at liberty in the sense that they are independent of God in their being, far all men and beings are dependent on God for their existence, since He upholds all things by the word of His power.

Men are at liberty to sin in the sense that they are not hindered from it. Sin is not the result of God's efficacious power but it may be in some sense the result of God's forbearing to act or nonaction. Where God efficaciously acts on or within men it is for their improvement. Sin must not be traced to God's positive act. It has its rise in the moral corruption of human nature.

The will is free, or rather man is free in willing, in the sense that he is situated to choose or wish for anything that is agreeable to him. And none can hinder him from doing this.

No being wishes for that of which he has no understanding, nor for that, for which he has no affinity of nature and feeling. So now when a man is sincerely wishing for a Savior's love and presence and approval this is evidence that there is , in him an affinity for these things, and so is evidence that he is born of God. When Jesus said "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness." Hungering and thirsting is evidence that there is an affinity in him for these things, and this is evidence that he is born of God, which is the sum of the blessing named in the text.
We may not be able to reason well about these things, but we can tell whether we crave to be pure in the sight of God, and if we do inwardly long for the love of God to be given us we may be sure we are blessed and are in possession of that nature that chooses divine things.

Paul says, "For it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure." A will to serve God is here attributed to God as his work to produce it. Regeneration invests man with a new nature, with the "Divine nature," and as the needle turns to the pole, so the soul, new born, turns to God as the sum of all good.

"Thy people shall be a willing people in the day of Thy power." The power of God is essential to the will being inclined to God and holiness, not the power of God to reason or in moral force, but his power to impart a new nature to the soul. "Who hath believed our report and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed."

The revealed arm of the Lord is essential to a hearty choice of God.

In order to cause darkness or frost it is not necessary that the sun exert his power, but rather that he withdraw or withhold his power. So sin is not the result of God's power exerted, but it rather results from His ceasing to act.

It is admitted by all sound Baptists that all good has its source or fountain in God. So that it is God that makes us "mete to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints, in light." And all trace this gracious work in men to God's purpose, which must necessarily be eternal. We must not trace our sin to the same source no more than we trace frost and darkness to the sun as their source. Paul speaks of the "vessels of mercy which he had afore prepared unto glory." The preparation for glory is of the Lord, and not of men, and this all true Baptists believe.

Paul also speaks of "the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction." He does not say whom "He afore fitted to destruction." If we say that all things were equally decreed we would believe that the vessels of wrath were fitted to destruction by the same power that prepared the vessels of mercy to glory, and this would be to trace opposite to the same source. It would be to have the same fountain send forth both bitter and sweet water. Whatever our brethren mean by the words, "Absolute predestination of all things," it does not seem to distinguish between good and evil as it is proper to do.

Nebuchadnezzar is spoken of as the servant of God but he was not the servant of God as the obedient christian is. The wicked are spoken of as the hand and sword of God, but if the wicked do God's will as the saints do, this would destroy the notion of opposition to God. Our Savior is presented as the captain of our salvation, as arrayed in garments rolled in blood, and so as a soldier overcoming his enemies, and the enemies of his people, and in the end, the saints will sing, "Thanks be unto God that giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ," and a victory implies that enemies have been overcome, but if all things are absolutely decreed, equally decreed, then all this war on enemies, and opposition would be a mere appearance of opposition. And we would be led to look upon Jesus in all his conflicts with foes as originating the very opposition he met.

Some kind of distinction must be made here or we might be led to confound good and evil as the same thing.

Now it must be admitted that God has power to bring good out of evil, to so control as the greatest possible good comes from the greatest evil and also that his power and wisdom is so concerned about sin as that this world is not a chance world, as respects sin, nor does the devil so occupy the throne as to determine the destinies of nations, however wicked they may be, nor so as to determine what the history of this world shall be.

But there ought to be some distinction made with regard to predestination in its application to sin and the concern it has in holiness.

When we speak of man as an agent our brethren become confused. They are accustomed to regard the word "agent" as "one appointed to do business for another." Its first meaning is an "actor," so when we speak of man as an "agent" we mean he is an "actor," but it is hard for some of our brethren to avoid being confused about this. And so the word "moral." Some of our brethren fail to get the meaning of this word. They understand it to mean "upright," "just." This is one of its meanings, but in its first meaning it denotes the distinction between the actions of man, and those of animals. The actions of men have the quality of being right or wrong, virtuous or vicious, while the actions of animals are not so. When we say man is a "moral agent" we mean his actions are either good or bad.

The insane are not "moral agents," because their conduct is not virtuous or vicious, in the sense that they are accountable beings. When we call man a "moral agent" we do not mean that he is a good man, nor do we mean he is a bad man. Man as a moral agent may be either a good man, or a bad man.

Man to be governed by moral law must be so situated as to do as he pleases about the requirements of the law. To publish to man a law requiring him to stay within certain bounds and then confining him within those bounds would be to control by physical law. To force a man to obey or disobey, renders the act of giving moral law a farce. The act of giving law to man supposes him to be situated to do as he pleases about the thing required or forbidden, and if man is not so situated, the act of giving law is a farce. Law must have a penalty affixed to it, and conditionality is an essential element of moral law and inseparable from it.

To say that God gave Adam a law and then compelled him to violate or keep it is to mix moral and physical law and confuse them together. An act of obedience or disobedience must be performed when one is doing as he pleases or the action would be destitute of either obedience or disobedience.

If by "free" is meant that man in his conduct does as he pleases, I mean if it is proper to call this liberty, then man, before the fall, and after the fall, and in his regenerated state is a "free moral agent," and I believe that man must possess the liberty of doing as he pleases in order to be capable of moral government. Deny that man is thus free and he ceases to be a moral agent , or he ceases to be governed by moral law, but is under the control of physical law.


Thoughts On The Will. J.H. Oliphant. Press of Moore & Langen Printing Co. Terre Haute, IN. 1899. Pages 107-116.