Thoughts On The Will


J. H. Oliphant



If freedom consists in one's being situated to do as he pleases, it is clear that the will will follow the strongest motive, it will embrace that which, at the moment, appears most desirable.

Edwards quotes an Arminian author as follows: "Though with regard to physical causes, that which is strongest always prevails, yet it is otherwise with regard to moral causes. Of these sometimes the stronger and sometimes the weaker prevails. And the ground of this difference is evident, namely, that what we call moral causes, strictly speaking, are no causes at all, but barely passive reasons of, or excitements to the action, or to the refraining from action, which excitement we have power to comply with, or reject as I have showed above."

They seem to think the "self-determining power of the will" is essential to their theory, essential to that liberty of will that is essential to moral government; that unless the will be thus free there could be no such thing as vice or virtue, &c. Mr. Edwards in replying to this position says: "If a hungry man have the offer of two sorts of food, to both of which he finds an appetite, but has a stronger appetite to one than the other, and there be no circumstances or excitements to induce him to take either the one or the other but his appetite; if in the choice he makes between them he chooses that to which he has the least appetite to, and refuses that to which he has the strongest appetite, this is a choice made absolutely without previous motive, excitement or reason, as much as if he were perfectly without appetite to either."

This illustrates the Arminian notion of "freedom of will." Where one is situated to do as he pleases, he certainly has all the liberty of will essential to moral government. I suppose this much liberty is essential, to vice or virtue, crime or innocence; and as Edwards says, "All who have learned to talk will admit that for one to be so situated as to do as he pleases is properly speaking liberty."

But the Arminian notion of liberty of will is for one to be capable of choosing that which is least desirable even repulsive, and rejecting that which is most desirable. "If the most high should endow a balance with agency, or activity of nature, in such a manner, that when unequal weights are put into the scales, its agency could enable it to cause that scale to descend, which has the least weight and so to raise the greater weight, this would demonstrate that the motion of the balance does not depend on weights in the scales, at least as much as if the balance should move itself, when there is no weights in the scales. And the activity of the balance which is sufficient to move itself against the greater weight, must, be more than sufficient to move itself when there is no weight at all." Edwards on will, P. 28.

A scale like this would be the most wonderful thing conceivable, but it would be a perfect illustration of the Arminian notion of "Free moral agency."

I am willing to accept the doctrine of "Free moral agency" if by these words we are to understand that man is capable of choosing that which is agreeable to him and of rejecting that which is disagreeable to him; but Arminians find it necessary to infuse a strange meaning into these words, a meaning not found in Webster or any other author of dictionary, namely that these words denote that a man is capable of choosing that which is disagreeable to him and of rejecting that which is most agreeable to him, capable of choosing without motive or against the most powerful preponderating motive. If this is free agency I would reject it most assuredly.

A system that requires a new meaning to the words of our language, and an unnatural and unreasonable meaning, must be at fault. The plain meaning of the words "Free moral agent" is "one situated to do as he prefers." To say these words denote "one situated to do as he does not please," "To choose what he does not prefer" is to give the words an unnatural meaning.

Arminians find the human family much inclined to sin. That all men are by "nature children of wrath." They find that the environment of men is sinful, and not only so but they find that the nature of man is such as to favor his environment and give it strength, and hence the necessity of contending for these strange and peculiar notions of the liberty of the will.

I will repeat what I said in a previous chapter, that "Affinity of nature is essential to choice." Where there is no affinity of nature there can be no choice. And the human family in its fallen condition has no affinity for God and his service , and hence the necessity of "being born again" as the Savior teaches, but I will say more of this later on.

Another Arminian writes the following, Edwards on the Will, P. 25: "What makes the will choose, is something approved by the understanding, and consequently, appearing good. And whatever it refuseth is something represented by the understanding, and so appearing to the will as evil. All that God requires of us is, and can be only this, to refuse the evil and choose the good.

Wherefore to say that evidence proposed, apprehended, and considered, is not sufficient to make the understanding approve; or that the greatest good proposed, the greatest evil threatened, when equally believed and reflected on, is not sufficient to engage the will, to choose the good, and refuse the evil, is in effect, to say, that which alone, doth move the will to choose, or to refuse, is not sufficient to engage it to do so, which being contradictory to itself, must be false."

This author says that instruction and exhortation is "that which alone doth move the will to choose." He knows of nothing else that tends in any degree to move the will to choose holiness and God but there are several things in this to consider, first -- in this, he gives up the theory of self-determination, and speaks of something as "that which alone doth move the will to choose." If the will be moved to choose, then it is not self-determining, and so not free, from the Arminian standpoint. Another thing, he speaks of something approved by the understanding, also as "evidence proposed and apprehended, considered or adverted to." Now in order to "apprehend and consider" the things proposed, the sinner
must be disposed to attend to, and consider. It is not the proposing that produces a disposition to attend to it, for that is to suppose the thing proposed to have an effect before it is "apprehended or considered." Campbell, who was a champion of Arminianism, says, in "Campbell on Baptism," p. 62, "Now we may with propriety say that as respects God there is an understanding distance, all beyond that distance can not understand God's word; all within it can easily understand him in all matters of piety, and morality." "God himself is the center of that circle and humility is its circumference." Campbell saw and mentions that some kind of preparation is necessary to enable one to "apprehend" the thing proposed, and that, that prepares men to hear is not the thing "proposed" unless we suppose it to produce good results before it is "apprehended."

Some kind of action of the will or choice is necessary to attend to and properly consider the thing "proposed." The will cannot be influenced by the weighty arguments of the gospel until heard, apprehended and considered, and some kind of will or choice is necessary to a patient attendance on the word. Now, the scheme quoted by Edwards and that quoted from Campbell both fail to inform us how men are induced to thus consider and so attend to the word as to have the equilibrium of the will broken, and determine to holiness. The fact is that on this scheme the "poise" of the will must needs be broken before "that which only" can break the poise, as they say, is brought into operation, and so the whole thing is a bundle of contradictions.

Another thing in regard to this whole plan is, it is open to all the criticisms and complaints usually leveled at Calvinism.

Suppose we have an organization of men who have means sufficient and men well qualified to present the "weighty arguments of the gospel," and they are preparing to visit some distant heathen region. They are not expecting to look after each and every heathen, but only a limited number. They have in store irresistible arguments according to the supposition, arguments that "alone doth move the will to choose or refuse," and they are to determine the field to be operated and the regions to be left out of their operations. Practically it is for this organization to say what land shall be blest with salvation and what shall be "reprobated," for they say election will necessarily lead to reprobation, and so now in as much as they can not bless every heathen land with "that which doth alone determine the mind to the choice of God and His service," they must needs elect the country upon which they will send the showers of salvation, and so reprobate all the rest.

The land which they elect is not needing it more than others, and is no more worthy of it than others, yet they deliberately claim the right to select that land and leave all the other lands in darkness. So now how much better is this scheme and view than the most ultra "Hyper" Calvinism. Wesley repeatedly said that the view that God selects some and leaves others makes "God meaner than the devil." But we find in lands where these weighty arguments are presented, that only a small per cent of the human family so attend, and consider as to be determined by that which "alone can move the will to choose." Now why do some choose to thus attend, while others do not. The will, at every moment of one's life follows the strongest motive, and those who fail to thus attend the weighty arguments and reject such a course are at the same time following what to them is the strongest motive, or else they are at the same moment acting like Edwards' remarkable scales, that were capable of determining that scale to ascend that contained the heavy weight and that one to descend that contained the light weight.

These things will lead us to understand there is something necessary here beside argument, something beside the mighty argument "that only can move the will to choose." Flavel spoke of a physical work of God on the soul wherein it is invested with a nature that is in affinity with, God. Edwards in commenting on the quotation above referred to, says, "I am sensible, the doctors aim in these assertions is against the Calvinists, to show, in opposition to them, that, there is no need of any physical operation of the spirit of God on the will, to change and determine that to a good choice. But that God's operation and assistance is only moral, suggesting ideas to the understanding which he supposes to be enough," &c.

Indeed here is the wide gulf between Arminianism and truth respecting the will.

The one supposes moral force sufficient to engage the will to fix upon God; the other holds that such is the carnality and corruption of human nature that moral force is insufficient to fix the heart upon God and Godliness. The one regards the mind as an enemy to God, that can be changed into a friend by wholesome instruction, while the other regards the "carnal mind as enmity against God," and so something above and beyond moral force is necessary to engage the heart to fix on God as the object of love and choice. But I hope to present this feature of the subject more fully in another chapter.


Thoughts On The Will. J.H. Oliphant. Press of Moore & Langen Printing Co. Terre Haute, IN. 1899. Pages 62-70.