1. The word, arbitrium, "choice," or "free will," properly signifies both the faculty of the mind or understanding, by which the mind is enabled to judge about any thing proposed to it, and the judgment itself which the mind forms according to that faculty. But it is transferred from the Mind to the Will on account of the very close connection which subsists between them. Liberty, when attributed to the will, is properly an affection of the will, though it has its root in the understanding and reason. Generally considered, it is various.
(1.) It is a Freedom from the control or jurisdiction of one who commands, and from an obligation to render obedience.
(2.) From the inspection, care, and government of a superior.
(3.) It is also a freedom from necessity, whether this proceeds from an external cause compelling, or from a nature inwardly determining absolutely to one thing.
(4.) It is a freedom from sin and its dominion.
(5.) And a freedom from misery.
2. Of these five modes of liberty, the first two appertain to God alone; to whom also on this account, autexousia perfect independence, or complete freedom of action, is attributed. But the remaining three modes may belong to man, nay in a certain respect they do pertain to him. And, indeed, the former, namely, freedom from necessity always pertains to him because it exists naturally in the will, as its proper attribute, so that there cannot be any will if it be not free. The freedom from misery, which pertains to man when recently created and not then fallen into sin, will again pertain to him when he shall be translated in body and soul into celestial blessedness. But about these two modes also, of freedom from necessity and from misery, we have here no dispute. It remains, therefore, for us, to discuss that which is a freedom from sin and its dominion, and which is the principal controversy of these times.
3. It is therefore asked, is there within man a freedom of will from sin and its dominion, and how far does it extend? Or rather, what are the powers of the whole man to understand, to will, and to do that which is good? To return an appropriate answer to this question, the distinction of a good object, and the diversity of men’s conditions, must both enter into our consideration. The Good Things presented to man are three, natural, which he has in common with many other creatures; animal, which belong to him as a man; and spiritual, which are also deservedly called Celestial or Divine, and which are consentaneous to him as being a partaker of the Divine Nature. The States, or Conditions are likewise three, that of primitive innocence, in which God placed him by creation; that of subsequent corruption, into which he fell through sin when destitute of primitive innocence; and, lastly, that of renewed righteousness, to which state he is restored by the grace of Christ.
4. But because it is of little importance to our present purpose to investigate what may be the powers of free will to understand, to will, and to do natural and animal good things; we will omit them, and enter on the consideration of spiritual good, that concerns the spiritual life of man, which he is bound to live according to godliness, inquiring from the Scriptures what powers man possesses, while he is in the way of this animal life, to understand, to will, and to do spiritual good things, which alone are truly good and pleasing to God. In this inquiry the office of a Director will be performed by a consideration of the three states, of which we have already treated, [§ 3,] varied as such consideration must be in the relation of these powers to the change of each state.
5. In the state of Primitive Innocence, man had a mind endued with a clear understanding of heavenly light and truth concerning God, and his works and will, as far as was sufficient for the salvation of man and the glory of God; he had a heart imbued with "righteousness and true holiness," and with a true and saving love of good; and powers abundantly qualified or furnished perfectly to fulfill the law which God had imposed on him. This admits easily of proof, from the description of the image of God, after which man is said to have been created, (Genesis 1:26, 27,) from the law divinely imposed on him, which had a promise and a threat appended to it, (2:17,) and lastly from the analogous restoration of the same image in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 4:24, Colossians 3:10.)
6. But man was not so confirmed in this state of innocence, as to be incapable of being moved, by the representation presented to him of some good, (whether it was of an inferior kind and relating to this animal life, or of a superior-kind and relating to spiritual life,) inordinately and unlawfully to look upon it and to desire it, and of his own spontaneous as well as free motion, and through a preposterous desire for that good, to decline from the obedience which had been prescribed to him. Nay, having turned away from the light of his own mind and his chief good, which is God, or, at least, having turned towards that chief good not in the manner in which he ought to have done, and besides having turned in mind and heart towards an inferior good, he transgressed the command given to him for life. By this foul deed, he precipitated himself from that noble and elevated condition into a state of the deepest infelicity, which is Under The Dominion of Sin. For "to whom any one yields himself a servant to obey," (Romans 6:16,) and "of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage," and is his regularly assigned slave. (2 Peter 2:19.)
7. In this state, the free will of man towards the true good is not only wounded, maimed, infirm, bent, and weakened; but it is also imprisoned, destroyed, and lost. And its powers are not only debilitated and useless unless they be assisted by grace, but it has no powers whatever except such as are excited by Divine grace. For Christ has said, "Without me ye can do nothing." St. Augustine, after having diligently meditated upon each word in this passage, speaks thus: "Christ does not say, without me ye can do but Little; neither does He say, without me ye can do any Arduous Thing, nor without me ye can do it with difficulty. But he says, without me ye can do Nothing! Nor does he say, without me ye cannot complete any thing; but without me ye can do Nothing." That this may be made more manifestly to appear, we will separately consider the mind, the affections or will, and the capability, as contra-distinguished from them, as well as the life itself of an unregenerate man.
8. The mind of man, in this state, is dark, destitute of the saving knowledge of God, and, according to the Apostle, incapable of those things which belong to the Spirit of God. For
"the animal man has no perception of the things of the Spirit of God;" (1 Corinthians 2:14;)
in which passage man is called "animal," not from the animal body, but from anima, the soul itself, which is the most noble part of man, but which is so encompassed about with the clouds of ignorance, as to be distinguished by the epithets of "vain" and "foolish;" and men themselves, thus darkened in their minds, are denominated "mad" or foolish, "fools," and even "darkness" itself. (Romans 1:21, 22; Ephesians 4:17, 18; Titus 3:3; Ephesians 5:8.) This is true, not only when, from the truth of the law which has in some measure been inscribed on the mind, it is preparing to form conclusions by the understanding; but likewise when, by simple apprehension, it would receive the truth of the gospel externally offered to it. For the human mind judges that to be "foolishness" which is the most excellent "wisdom" of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18, 24.) On this account, what is here said must be understood not only of practical understanding and the judgment of particular approbation, but also of theoretical understanding and the judgment of general estimation.
9. To the darkness of the mind succeeds the perverseness of the affections and of the heart, according to which it hates and has an aversion to that which is truly good and pleasing to God; but it loves and pursues what is evil. The Apostle was unable to afford a more luminous description of this perverseness, than he has given in the following words:
"The carnal mind is enmity against God. For it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then, they that are in the flesh cannot please God." (Romans 8:7.)
For this reason, the human heart itself is very often called deceitful and perverse, uncircumcised, hard and stony." (Jeremiah 13:10; 17:9; Ezekiel 36:26.) Its imagination is said to be "only evil from his very youth;" (Genesis 6:5; 8:21;) and "out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries," etc. (Matthew 15:19.)
10. Exactly correspondent to this darkness of the mind, and perverseness of the heart, is the utter weakness of all the powers to perform that which is truly good, and to omit the perpetration of that which is evil, in a due mode and from a due end and cause. The subjoined sayings of Christ serve to describe this impotence. "A corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit." (Matthew 7:18.) "How can ye, being evil, speak good things?" (12:34.)
The following relates to the good which is properly prescribed in the gospel: "No man can come to me, except the Father draw him." (John 6:44.) As do likewise the following words of the Apostle:
"The carnal mind is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be;" (Romans 8:7;.
therefore, that man over whom it has dominion, cannot perform what the law commands. The same Apostle says, "When we were in the flesh, the motions of sins wrought in us," or flourished energetically. (7:5.) To the same purpose are all those passages in which the man existing in this state is said to be under the power of sin and Satan, reduced to the condition of a slave, and "taken captive by the Devil." (Romans 6:20; 2 Timothy 2:26.)
11. To these let the consideration of the whole of the life of man who is placed under sin, be added, of which the Scriptures exhibit to us the most luminous descriptions; and it will be evident, that nothing can be spoken more truly concerning man in this state, than that he is altogether dead in sin. (Romans 3:10-19.) To these let the testimonies of Scripture be joined, in which are described the benefits of Christ, which are conferred by his Spirit on the human mind and will, and thus on the whole man. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Galatians 5:19-25; Ephesians 2:2-7; 4:17-20; Titus 3:3-7.) For, the blessings of which man has been deprived by sin, cannot be rendered more obviously apparent, than by the immense mass of benefits which accrue to believers through the Holy Spirit; when, in truth, nature is understood to be devoid of all that which, as the Scriptures testify, is performed in man and communicated by the operation of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, if "where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty;" (2 Corinthians 3:17;) and if those alone be free indeed whom the Son hath made free;" (John 8:36;) it follows, that our will is not free from the first fall; that is, it is not free to good, unless it be made free by the Son through his Spirit.
12. But far different from this is the consideration of the free will of man, as constituted in the third state of Renewed Righteousness. For when a new light and knowledge of God and Christ, and of the Divine will, have been kindled in his mind; and when new affections, inclinations and motions agreeing with the law of God, have been excited in his heart, and new powers have been produced in him; it comes to pass, that, being liberated from the kingdom of darkness, and being now made "light in the Lord," (Ephesians 5:8,) he understands the true and saving good; that, after the hardness of his stony heart has been changed into the softness of flesh, and the law of God according to the covenant of grace has been inscribed on it, (Jeremiah 31, 32-35,) he loves and embraces that which is good, just, and holy; and that, being made capable in Christ, co-operating now with God, he prosecutes the good which he knows and loves, and he begins himself to perform it in deed. But this, whatever it may be of knowledge, holiness and power, is all begotten within him by the Holy Spirit; who is, on this account, called "the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, of counsel and might, of knowledge and the fear of Jehovah," (Isaiah 11:2,) "the Spirit of grace," (Zechariah 12:10,) "of faith," (2 Corinthians 4:13,) "the Spirit of adoption" into sons, (Romans 8:16,) and "the Spirit of holiness;" and to whom the acts of illumination, regeneration, renovation, and confirmation, are attributed in the Scriptures.
13. But two things must be here observed. The First that this work of regeneration and illumination is not completed in one moment; but that it is advanced and promoted, from time to time, by daily increase. For "our old man is crucified, that the body of sin might be destroyed," (Romans 6:6,) and "that the inward man may be renewed day by day." (2 Corinthians 4:16.) For this reason, in regenerate persons, as long as they inhabit these mortal bodies, "the flesh lusteth against the Spirit." (Galatians 5:17.)
Hence it arises, that they can neither perform any good thing without great resistance and violent struggles, nor abstain from the commission of evil.
Nay, it also happens, that, either through ignorance or infirmity, and sometimes through perverseness, they sin, as we may see in the cases of Moses, Aaron, Barnabas, Peter and David. Neither is such an occurrence only accidental; but, even in those who are the most perfect, the following Scriptures have their fulfillment: "In many things we all offend;" (James 3:9;) and "There is no man that sinneth not." (1 Kings 8:46.)
14. The Second thing to be observed is, that as the very first commencement of every good thing, so likewise the progress, continuance and confirmation, nay, even the perseverance in good, are not from ourselves, but from God through the Holy Spirit. For
"he who hath begun a good work in you, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ;" (Philippians 1:6;)
"we are kept by the power of God through faith." (1 Peter 1:5.)
"The God of all grace makes us perfect, stablishes, strengthens and settles us." (1:10.)
But if it happens that persons fall into sin who have been born again, they neither repent nor rise again unless they be raised up again by God through the power of his Spirit, and be renewed to repentance. This is proved in the most satisfactory manner, by the example of David and of Peter.
"Every good and perfect gift, therefore, is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights," (James 1:17,)
by whose power the dead are animated that they may live, the fallen are raised up that they may recover themselves, the blind are illuminated that they may see, the unwilling are incited that they may become willing, the weak are confirmed that they may stand, the willing are assisted that they may work and may co-operate with God. "To whom be praise and glory in the church, by Christ Jesus, throughout all ages, world without end. Amen!" "Subsequent or following grace does indeed assist the good purpose of man; but this good purpose would have no existence unless through preceding or preventing grace. And though the desire of man, which is called good, be assisted by grace when it begins to be; yet it does not begin without grace, but is inspired by Him, concerning whom the Apostle writes thus, thanks be to God, who put the same earnest care into the heart of Titus for you. If God incites any one to have ‘an earnest care’ for others, He will ‘put it into the heart’ of some other person to have ‘an earnest care’ for him." Augustinus, Contra. 2 Epist. Pelag. l. 2. c. 9.
"What then, you ask, does free will do? I reply with brevity, it saves.
Take away FREE WILL, and nothing will be left to be saved. Take away GRACE, and nothing will be left as the source of salvation. This work [of salvation] cannot be effected without two parties — one, from whom it may come: the other, to whom or in whom it may be wrought. God is the author of salvation. Free will is only capable of being saved. No one, except God, is able to bestow salvation; and nothing, except free will, is capable of receiving it." Bernardus, De Libero Arbit. et Gratia.