Man's Free Will

Man’s Free Will

Man, as we have seen, is a moral being who is possessed of a conscience: that is, he possesses the knowledge of moral differences. He is aware of a Supreme Being to whom he must give account (Heb. 4. 13). God has written His claims both in man's conscience (Rom. 2. 15) and in the Scriptures, warning him of punishment for default of duty. The way of life and the way of death are revealed therein (Deut. 30. 19). The way of blessing and of cursing are there explained. Man is responsible to choose one or the other (Josh. 24. 15) and according to that choice, he determines his destiny.

In the words of the late Bishop Moule again: 'Man has free will. He is not the product of circumstances; he is responsible amongst them tor moral choice. This is always assumed in Scripture, especially in divine reasonings and appeals. True, Scripture is always jealous for the supremacy and sovereignty of the will of God. This is one of its great and conspicuous characteristics. His will has sovereign relations to all events such that somehow all contribute to the perfect realization of its purpose. But among these "all things" is the reality of the will of the created personality such that man is a true though secondary cause. We fail, by the necessary limits of our viewpoint, to see mentally the harmony of the absolute sovereignty of the will of the Holy Creator, and the true freedom and so true responsibility of the will of the personal creature. But the two facts are equally plain in revelation and equally important in a true theology.' 

Parallel lines are said to meet at infinity and it is possible that when the children of God have bodies of glory they may understand the true interaction of these two apparently contradictory principles. 'True human will has been created by the divine Will and is subordinate to it.' One part of a machine may appear to be moving in an entirely different direction from another part; yet without either one or the other the machine could not function. So it is in the realm of morality. Men are free to choose, but in so choosing they are responsible to their Sovereign Creator.

Moreover, man's choice and God's purpose for the believer operate in unison. As another has written: 'When the gift of life was proffered us we were conscious in accepting it that we did so freely, voluntarily. Since then . . . we have come to learn that in a sense deeper and fuller still grace is sovereign.' And yet again: 'God has embedded in the human nature an element of free will (sovereignty) as a feature of His own image, and He will not violate it to coerce the unsaved or saved. The will is the turning-point both in the fall and in salvation. The eternal relationship is established in the reciprocity of God's will and man’s.'

Such scriptural terms as guilt (Rom. 3. 19), trespass (Eph. 2. 1), choose (Josh. 24. 15), repent (Acts 2. 38), believe (Acts 16. 31), and indeed all God's specific commands to man, whether given in the Decalogue or other parts of the Holy Writings imply that man is under a duty to obey. A wrong choice involves him in guilt. The inability of man to do the right is but one facet of a manysided doctrine. God never requires a man to do a thing of which he is morally incapable. If he is required to believe, his unbelief would not be culpable if it could bc shown that he was incapable of exercising faith. The Lord's words, 'Ye will not to come to me that ye might have life' (John S. 40) demonstrate the wilfulness of the Jews although it afforded the occasion for the fulfilment of God's wider purposes of grace. While all that the Father had given to Christ will, surely, come to Him (John 6. 37), it is the responsibility of all such, no matter how deeply into sin they may have fallen, to come, and the promise is certain that all that so come unto Him He 'will not cast out.’

If a man is not responsible for his actions, how (it may be asked) could judgment be 'according to man's works?' (Rev. 20. 12). 'How, then, shall God judge thc world?' (Acts 17. 31). How could degrees of guilt be determined? or, how could few or many stripes be awarded (Luke 12. 47, 48). Why, indeed, should God punish man at all?

Man cannot claim exemption from guilt on the ground that God overrules his wickedness in order to carry out His own purposes. God originally endowed men with free-will, and this became evident when Adam chose to disobey in the Garden of Eden. All his posterity, like him, are capable of choosing and all have chosen wrongly. They have turned to their own way (Isa. 53. 6).


© Douglas Carr 2021