Thoughts On The Will


J. H. Oliphant



It is urged that regenerated persons are "servants of God," and so a servant of God can not be free or that "liberty of will" is inconsistent with servitude; also that wicked men are the "servants of sin," and so "liberty of will" is denied to them. Dr. Gill notices these objections in the following words: "The liberty of will is consistent with some kind of necessity, yea, even with some kind of servitude. A servant may serve his master freely, and voluntarily, as the Hebrew servant who was unwilling to part from his master when his time of service expired.

A wicked man who commits sin, gives himself up to it, as a servant of it, yet acts freely in all his shameful and sinful services; even at the same time he is a slave to those lusts and pleasures he chooses and delights in, which made Luther call "free will" "servum arbitrium." Again, "A wicked man, in the highest degree of servitude to sin, his will acts as freely in this state of bondage as Adam's will did in obedience to God in a state of innocence."

Such is the nature of moral force, (argument, persuasion, &c.,) that it never interferes with liberty of will, however strong and irresistible it may be, nor is it the wish of those who reason, exhort or persuade, to interfere with liberty of will.
Gill held that predestination, extends to all events, yet he distinguished between its relation to good and its relation to evil. He was a necessarian, or necessitarian. He held that God's purposes extends to all events in such a way as that chance and uncertainty are entirely excluded from the world, and yet so as to distinguish between right and wrong, the one having its origin in God, and the other not. He says, "The liberty of will is consistent with some kind of necessity, God necessarily and yet freely hates that which is evil, and loves that which is good." "Christ as man, was under some kind of necessity of fulfiling all righteousness, and yet performed it voluntarily." Cause of God and Truth P.8.

When we say a man is compelled to do a thing we ordinarily understand that he is unwilling to do it, but not so where a man is morally compelled. Here is where confusion arises, we get physical and moral compulsion confused together, and so we fail to see that a man may be compelled to do, by an irresistible moral force, and yet do it so freely as to do as he pleases.

A good man is compelled to provide for his family, and yet never in a lifetime does as he pleases more truly than when thus providing for them. This was what Gill meant when he said, "The will cannot be forced; nor is it, even by the powerful, efficacious, and unfrustrable operation of God's grace in conversion, for though before it is unwilling to submit to Christ and His way of salvation, yet it is made willing in the day of His power, without offering the least violence to it, God working upon it, as Austin says, 'with a sweet omnipotence and an omnipotent sweetness."

Again, Gill says: "A good man looks upon himself as under a necessary obligation to act agreeably to the will of God, yet this necessity is not contrary to the liberty of his will." This, no doubt, is what is meant in the third chapter of Philadelphia confession of faith by the words, "Nor is violence offered to the will of the creature, nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established."

By noticing the arguments made by the Arminians it is clear they felt the necessity of defending the notion that the will is "self-determining." While Gill, Calvin, and all who opposed Arminianism maintained that the will is "determined," not "self-determined" but "determined "and not "poised" or in "equilibrio," with a certain sovereignty over itself whereby it is able to determine itself. Relative to this Gill says, "The liberty of will does not consist in an indifference to good or evil, nor in an indetermination to either, otherwise the will of no being would be free; for God, as he is essentially good, his will is determined only to that which is so, nor does he, nor can he do anything evil, and yet in all he does, acts with the utmost freedom and liberty of will."

I wish to give a few quotations from Whitby and others to show what they regarded as their difficulty. "That the freedom of will in this state of trial cannot consist with a determination to one; on the one hand, in a determination to good only, by the efficacy of divine grace seeing this puts man out of a state of trial * * * nor with the contrary determination to evil only, for then man in this state of trial must be reduced to toe condition of the devil," &c.

This is not a state of trial for any who are sinners, for all such are now under the curse. "Cursed is every one who continues not in all the things written in the book of the law to do them." Again Whitby says, "That only is said to be free for us to do which it is in our power to do, which may be done otherwise than it is done, and about which there is ground for consultation and deliberation." In this quotation he plainly confuses physical and moral powers.

Another writer quoted by Edwards, says, "that nothing is, or comes to pass, without a sufficient reason why it is, and why it is in this manner rather than another." "Allows that it is thus in corporeal things, which are properly and philosophically speaking passive being, but denies it is thus in spirits which are beings of an active nature, who have the spring of action within themselves."

His idea seems to be that an act of choice may exist without a sufficient reason for its existence, or why it is what it is. The relation of cause and effect is as true and real in the moral world as it is in the physical world, and this is the thing Arminians must deny to sustain their theory. They hold that if there be a reason why men choose as they do, that this would destroy all liberty of will, and also that it would destroy all just cause for blame in evil men, as well as all ground of commendation of the good actions of virtuous men.

In reply to the above, if a sufficient cause for one's choice would destroy all liberty of will; then one, to choose freely, would choose without a reason why he chooses.

The better reason one has for his choice the less liberty he would have in choosing and so if God has the best reason possible, for all his conduct, this theory would deny a particle of liberty to him, and also would hold that he is not entitled to a particle of praise for his conduct. And so the insane who act with no reason would have perfect liberty.

But I repeat that cause and effect are as real and true in the moral as in the natural; every atom of matter from the creation till now, has had a sufficient reason for its every motion, not a ripple on the face of all the waters, nor a motion of one single leaf nor of one atom of dust, from the morning of creation to the close of time, but that is traceable to a sufficient cause, and the same law of cause and effect is found in the moral universe. This principle Arminians must overturn to make their doctrine stand on its feet.

Locke on the Understanding, p. 7, says, "No man ever sits himself about anything but upon some view or other which serves him for a reason for what he does. * * * The will itself, how absolute and uncontrollable soever it may be thought, never fails in its obedience to the dictates of the understanding. * * * But in truth the ideas and images in men's minds are the invisible powers that constantly govern them, and to these they all universally pay a ready submission."

In this Locke affirms that the choice is "determined" and that it is controlled by the judgment. Edwards quotes Whitby's essay on the will, p. 25, "That there are many instances wherein the will is determined neither by present uneasiness, nor by the greatest apparent good, nor by the last dictate of the understanding, nor by anything else, but merely by itself, as a sovereign, self-determining power of the soul, and that the soul does not will this or that action, * * * by another influence, but because it will." Edwards, in reply to this, says: "The thing supposed, wherein this grand argument consists, is that among several things the will actually chooses one before another, at the same time that it is perfectly indifferent."

The action of choosing is based on the last dictate of the understanding, as Locke and Edwards show. That which the judgment apprehends as best or as containing the most to please and gratify, the choice as surely embraces as that a stone falls when that which holds it up is removed. There may be things about which the will is indifferent, or about which the will is poised and in such a case there would be no choice, but when these things are brought before the judgment, and the judgment is that one of them is most desirable, then the will embraces that. To say otherwise is to say the judgment is that one thing is, all things considered, most desirable and yet the will chooses the other. It is to say man's judgment is that one thing is preferable yet he chooses another thing. It is to say a man chooses what he does not prefer, which is to say he chooses what he does not choose, and this is an absurdity.

Edwards says, P. 21, "To make out this scheme of liberty the indifference must be perfect and absolute." There must be a perfect freedom from all antecedent preponderation or inclination." If liberty of will consists in "indifference" the indifference must be total and absolute, for if there be any preponderation whatever, this would destroy liberty of will, on the Arminian plan. "The least degree of antecedent bias must be inconsistent with their notion of liberty." "Surely the will can not act or choose contrary to a remaining inclination of the will." Bias to either sin or holiness would destroy all liberty of soul, and this would destroy all ground for blame for an evil choice, or all ground for approval in a right choice. So that there must not be a particle of preference in the soul, at the time of choice, and this makes it necessary to choose while in a state of perfect and absolute indifference on the Arminian plan.

Edwards shows that according to the Arminian notion of free will there could be no choice, such a thing could not exist--it is utterly self-contradictory and self-destructive.

Whitby instances two cakes, just alike, or two eggs, and attempts to sustain his notion of "indifference," or "equilibrio" by insisting that the soul is capable of choice here when there is no choice. I think Edwards destroys this reasoning effectually. But while there is no difference between two cakes that are just alike, yet there is a great difference between right and wrong, and this would render his illustration by the two cakes or two eggs entirely unsuitable. We may also say that the mind or soul of a sinner is not in "equilibrio" between right and wrong, but the preponderance is to the evil. So that if the Arminian could show the soul capable of acting or choosing, while in equilibrio it would fail to serve their purpose unless they could also show that the sinner is in equilibrio between righteousness and sin.

It is unnecessary for me to endeavor to prove that the sinner is not in a "poised" state of mind, for all who know anything of scripture teaching know that this world is inclined to evil. The "poise" they talk of is broken in every one, and so their task is to prove that evil men are capable of choosing against their inclination, and against a most powerful preponderation to evil, against the tendency and inclination of their own nature and against the influences of their environment.


Thoughts On The Will. J.H. Oliphant. Press of Moore & Langen Printing Co. Terre Haute, IN. 1899. Pages 53-61.