Thoughts On The Will


J. H. Oliphant



Can a man choose the Lord and his works? Ordinarily when we say a man can not do a thing, we suppose that man to wish to do that thing, but in this case we may say a wish to love God is nothing less than the loving of him. It has been said that "a want of inclination to do a thing constitutes a want of power to do that thing." So if this be true then, if a man has no inclination to love God, or disposition to love him, it would hardly be correct to say that he can do so. And to further clear this question, where a man loves any thing, there must be a reason or cause for his doing so. Perhaps a number of things may unite to constitute one cause. Now, if a man loves sin and sinful ways, there is a reason why he does so. The reason why he loves these things must exist at the time he loves sin. So then our question may be stated, "Can a man love God while there is a sufficient cause in existence, and in operation, for his loving the opposite of God?" And further, I think it plain that it would be absurd to say a man can love the opposite of what he prefers. Take a man who is against Christ. "He that is not for me is against me." If we say this man can love Christ, we must mean he has power to love that which he is "against." At the same instant, and moment, that he loves sin, he is able to love the reverse, I think this would be absurd.

If there were no cause for his loving sin or reason for it, then we might say that such a man could love God. But is there a reason why an evil man loves sin? I will not, now at least, enquire what the reason is, that bad men love sin, but will enquire whether there be a reason at all. I think it is certain that there is a reason for every thing around us from the motion of the least atom of dust to that of the rolling spheres, and so a good and sufficient reason for all the actions of holy men. To say a man loves sin and yet there is no cause why he does so. It is true there is no proper and worthy reason for men's love of sin, but there must be a cause for it.

If a man steals or murders or commits any serious crime, we know there is a cause for it. Jesus says: "An evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth that which is evil." I suppose that all will admit that when a man loves sin, and rejects righteousness, that there is a cause for it.

So then our question would be, Can one who loves sin, and rejects righteousness, can such a man at the same time that he loves sin, and also while the cause for loving sin exists and is in operation, can such a man, at such a time, love holiness? To say so would be to say that a man can choose what he does not prefer, and this is an absurdity. The Arminian notion of "free will" is that the will or choice can be reversed by some sovereign determining power of the will. They urge that unless this be true men could not be blamable for sin, nor could there be any just pretext for moral government of God. But it is clear that the sentiment they contend for is utterly unreasonabIe and self contradictory. Where men are situated to do as they please they have all the liberty necessary to moral government. And evil men have all the liberty necessary to moral government. Men have not the right to sin or love sin, in the sense they are not forbidden to do so, but they certainly have liberty to do so in the sense they are not hindered from it, and this is, properly speaking, liberty. Let us now put our question in another form, "Can a man whose pleasure it is to serve sin, choose the service of God?"

It is true that men can do as they please about their behavior, but for us to say a man can choose the service of God when at, the same time, it is his pleasure to serve sin, would be to say he can do as he does not please to do, or that he can choose that in which he has no pleasure,

which brings us back to the proposition, a man can choose that which he does not prefer, and this is to say he can choose that which he does not choose, and this is absurd.

I think we are liable to be confused by regarding the will as an organ of the body. We can change our feet from one place to another, and so we conclude we can move the will from one place to another.

The feet are subject to, and governed by the will, but the will is not an organ of the body, it

is an ad of the mind. The will governs the feet but the will does not govern the will. I have heard

men say, can't I choose whatever course I please? and seem to think this an answer to the positions here taken. But to answer these positions it is necessary to show that a man can choose the course he does not choose. Their task is to prove that the will governs itself. Their task is to prove that a man can choose the course of life that he does not choose.

It has been asked can not a man choose that which is disagreeable to him, on account of some other advantage gained, or some other trouble avoided? A man may take that which is disagreeable to him, for the above reasons, as a man takes a bitter medicine, for the sake of health, but in this case the mind chooses the health.

And so where men enter the service of God, to escape future suffering, or simply to secure heaven or in order to promote good morals in community, in such cases God is not really the object chosen but to escape the trouble, &c., is the thing chosen. The choice is not God, but to escape future misery. The true Christian chooses God not as the wife who chose her husband on account of his wealth, honor, &c., but he chooses God on his own account. I think it important to remember that the words can and can not, in connection with this subject are used in a different sense from the sense in which they are used in regard to physical things.

When we say," the army can suppress the rebellion," we mean in spite of all opposition. But when we say a man can love his dutiful son, we do not mean that there is anything to oppose his loving his son. There is nothing to hinder him from it. He may be hindered from aiding his son by poverty, &c., but nothing can hinder him from loving his son.

So we may say of a good man: "He can love the Lord and do so most freely." I know of nothing to hinder him from doing so. So when Paul spoke of persons "having eyes full of adultery and that can not cease from sin." In an ordinary way this might imply that these men

were forced against their will to sin, but the thought here is these men were so attached to sin they could not avoid it. There is no intimation of a desire to do so on their part. I think it clear that in order to the choice of anything there must be some affinity between him that chooses and the object chosen. When the needle is disengaged it turns to the pole, while a piece of wood would not do so. And so I am sure that in order for a man to choose God there must be some affinity of nature in him for God, but I will leave this subject for some other chapter.

Our own nature and environment forever determine the choice or will. A house of sin has an attractive influence on some men, and not so with others. So a church a or place of worship will attract others. Let a gold mine be discovered, and many are determined in their wills and conduct by it. We might follow up this line of reasoning and find that events around us, and men's conduct grow out of the surroundings. I mean the conduct of men in all the relations of life are determined by two things, namely, The nature of man, and his environment.

We must distinguish between the power men have to choose, and the cause of their choice being one thing rather than another. To say a man chooses sin because the Creator has endowed man with a capability of choosing would be the height of absurdity. There must be a reason why the choice is what it is rather than something else. If we see a body in motion we know there is not only a cause of its moving, but a reason why it moves in that particular direction. I think that there is as much reason why a man's choice is what it is, as there is why a body moves in any particular direction.

To say there is no reason why a man's choice is what it is, would be as absurd as to say there was no reason why the stone fell downward instead of upward.

But it may be asked "May we not by instruction and good examples determine the choice of our neighbors to God's ways?"

Certainly we may, and all men who write books or print papers on religious subjects or who preach or address the people, I say they do so with design of leading men or influencing them to choose the right thing, rather than the wrong; but they do not address the people with any design of destroying the liberty of will. It is the design that they should choose truth and right without compulsion, and, indeed, "moral force" never operates so as to destroy liberty of will or liberty of choosing, which is the same thing, but in the exercise of instruction we may remember that men

must be willing to be instructed, to go where it is, and to listen to it. They must be willing to weigh what is said, and so attend it as to understand it.

I may also notice the fact that those who so address the people do so with the design of determining the will or choice of those they address. The man who preaches does so with design of determining his hearers to choose the right, and if he succeeds then the truth that "environment determines the choice" is established, and the will is not self-determining.


Thoughts On The Will. J.H. Oliphant. Press of Moore & Langen Printing Co. Terre Haute, IN. 1899. Pages 28-35.