God’s Will, Man’s Will and Free Will – Part 6

Here is the final chapter of Ernest Reisinger’s book on <em>The Will</em>:

Chapter Five

Related Doctrines

The doctrine we have considered in the preceding chapters (here, here, here and here) is vitally related to other key doctrines of the Bible, such as total depravity, election, and effectual calling. This was vividly brought home to me in the early 1980s when I was distributing Dr. James P. Boyce’s Abstract of Systematic Theology to graduates of our Southern Baptist seminaries. With each hook I enclosed a little survey sheet consisting of
four questions:

Do you believe that Dr. Boyce is biblically correct in his chapter on Effectual Calling?

Do you think his view of the Doctrine of Election is the biblical teaching?

In Chapter 28, Dr. Boyce sets forth several views of the Atonement. Which view do you believe to be the biblical view?

Please comment on Chapter 12: “The Will of God.”

One of the survey responses will illustrate my point that the doctrine of free will is vitally related to other biblical doctrines. This prudent young seminarian did not realize how profound his answers were. He said, “No, Dr. Boyce was not biblically correct on his views of election because if Boyce was correct on his view of election, man would not have a free will.” He was one hundred percent correct. If man had a free will, Boyce was wrong on his view of election. The young seminarian may have been wrong about Boyce, but he was right in his conclusion.

Three years later I received a letter from this fine young man informing me that, after much study (particularly of the first chapter of Ephesians), he had changed his view: Boyce was biblically correct on the doctrine of election and effectual calling, He now had a correct, biblical view of man’s will. (This young man is now teaching at Midwestern Baptist Seminary.) Our view of free will has a profound effect on other major doctrines of the Christian faith. Now I wish to consider the biblical doctrine of election as it relates to free will. The Bible nowhere uses the expression “free will,” but it has a lot to say about the will. For instance, John 5:40, “But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.” In this little verse our Lord is telling us four fundamental and necessary things:

Every man is spiritually dead and dead men need life (“come to Me that you may have life”).

This life is found only in Christ (“come to Me”).

There is life in Jesus Christ only for those who come for it (one must “come”).

No one by nature ever will come (“you are not willing to come”).

This verse lays the groundwork for the blessed doctrine of unconditional election. It expresses the biblical view of the will: “You are not willing to come to Me.” Left to himself no one will come to Christ. This is the biblical teaching on free will. “You are not willing.” B.B. Warfield used to say,

“What is the use of arguing about whosoever will when we live in a world of whosoever will nots.” This universal condition of “will nots” makes the doctrine of unconditional election necessary if any one is to be saved.

The preacher might borrow the eloquence of Demosthenes, he may beg you on his knees with heartfelt tears in his eyes, he might show you the horrors of hell and the joys of heaven, the sufficiency of Christ, and your own lost condition, but still none will come unless the blessed Spirit that rested on Christ should draw you. That is the practical outworkings of the bondage of the will.

“You mean that I can’t come to Christ if I will?” No, I do not mean that at all; in fact, it is as simple as this: if you will, you are welcome; but without that effectual call, who will? Did you ever meet a Christian who said, “I came to Christ without the power of the Spirit?” Let me assure you that if anyone ever came without the power of the Spirit, you may be very sure he went away again without the power of the Spirit. No, every Christian must put his hands to his heart and say:

Grace tauqht my soul to pray,
And made my eyes o’er flow;
‘Twas grace that kept me to this day,
And will not let me go.

No Christian will say, “I sought God before he sought me.” Even the Arminian will sing, “0 yes! I do love Jesus because he first loved me” (1 John 4:19). The Arminian view of election is that it is conditioned upon man’s will, and he does not believe that will is limited by man’s nature.

I would like to present a clear definition of the doctrine of unconditional election as stated by J.P. Boyce, founder and first president of Southern Seminary in Louisville, and president of the Southern Baptist Convention (1872—1879, 1888). His definition of unconditional election is found in his Abstract of Systematic Theology and is taken from his sermon by that title.

The theory… of [Calvinists as to election] is that God (who and not man is the one who chooses or elects) of his own purpose (in accordance with his will, and not from any obligation to man, nor because of any will of man), has from Eternity (the period of God’s action, not in time in which man acts), determined to save (not has actually saved, but simply determined so to do), [and to save, (not [merely] to confer gospel or church privileges upon)] a definite number of mankind (not the whole race, nor indefinitely merely some of them, nor indefinitely a certain proportionate part, but a definite number), as individuals (not the whole or a part of the race, nor of a nation, nor of a church, nor of a class, as of believers or the pious; but individuals) not for or because of any merit or work of theirs, nor of any value to him of them (not for their good works, nor for their holiness nor excellence, nor their faith, nor their spiritual sanctification, although the choice is to a salvation attained through faith and sanctification; nor [for] their value to him, though their salvation tends greatly to the manifested glory of his grace): but of his own good pleasure (simply because he was pleased so to choose).8

(Boyce used the following Scripture verses in support of his position: Ephesians 1:4—6, 11; Matthew 11:25—26; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Corinthians 1:26—30; Acts 13:48; 1 Timothy 1:9; Romans 8:28—30; 9:11-24 33; Revelation 13:8; 17:8; Ephesians 2:1—3; John 1:13, 3:3—8; 5:2 1; 6:37-65; 15:16; 17:2; James 1:18.)

This definition is clear. Dr. Boyce believed and taught unconditional election. For him this election to salvation was not based upon God’s looking into the future, seeing which men would choose Him, and then electing those men to salvation. Rather, our Baptist fathers preached the God of absolute and indisputable sovereignty, who chose His elect with nothing moving Him with respect to whom He chose except His own good pleasure and distinguishing mercy.

The doctrine of election holds a very prominent place in the Scriptures. It meets us everywhere—in both the Old and New Testaments. Everyone who believes the Bible must believe something about election. He may not have the correct meaning, hut he must believe something about it. The Arminian believes something about election, though he doesn’t believe the biblical teaching on the subject. Election, however, has one meaning.

Election does not destroy the will. Obviously, the sinner must have a will in the matter. It is absurdity to say the sinner loves, believes, etc., against his will or by compulsion. The sinner must will: he must will to take the broad way, or he must will to take the narrow way. His will is essential to all these movements of his soul. But in what state do we find his will? We find it is wholly set against the truth. Every will since the fall is entirely opposed to God and His Word. Man needs no foreign influence, no external power, to make him reject the truth; that he does by nature. He hates it with his whole heart. When a sinner then comes to receive the truth, how is this accomplished? Does he renew himself? Does he change the enmity of his will by the unaided act of his will? Does he of himself bend back his own will into the opposite direction? Does he, by a word of his own power, cause the current that had been flowing downhill to change its course and power, causing it to flow upward? Does his own will originate the change in itself and carry the change into effect? Impossible! The current would have flowed forever downward had it not been arrested in its course by something stronger than itself. The sinner’s will would have remained forever in depravity and bondage, had it not another Will, far mightier than itself, coming into contact with it, and altering both its nature and course, working in the sinner “both to will and to do.” Was the sinner willing before this other Will met his? No! Was he willing after? Yes! Then it is plain that it was God’s will, meeting and changing the sinner’s will, that made the difference. God’s will was first.

It was God’s will that began the work and made the sinner willing. He never would have willed had not God made him willing. “Thy people shall be willing in the day of Thy power.” It is the power of Jehovah applied to us that makes us willing. Until that power is applied, we are unwilling. It is His hand, operating directly upon the soul, that changes its nature and its bent. Were it not for that, our unwillingness would never be removed. No outward means, no motives, would be sufficient to effect the change; for all these means and motives are rejected by the sinner. Nor does he become willing even to allow the approach or application of these means or motives until God makes him willing. To speak of his being changed by that which he rejects is as absurd as to speak of a man’s being healed by a medicine which he persists in refusing. “Can the Ethopian change his skin or the leopard its spots?” (Jer. 13:23). Does God then hinder sinners from believing and willing? By no means. He hinders none. They are their own hindrance. “You are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.” Not one soul would be saved if left to his own will. But in His infinite mercy, God does not leave them to their own wills. He puts forth His mighty power on some to make them willing. Were it not for this, all would be lost, for all would reject the Savior.

But some profane objector says, “Does God make men to be damned?” Let me in a few words answer the miserable atheism of such an objection. This is precisely the argument of the Socinians, Universalists, and Deists against the existence of such a place as hell. If you speak of hell or everlasting fire to such, their answer is, “Did God make men to damn them?” And however abominable and unscriptural their notion is, it is at least consistent with their own theory. Making God to be all love and nothing else, they think it inconsistent with His love that He should allow such a place as hell in the universe. They do not believe in hell, and so they must ask such a question.

God did not make men in order to damn them. He did not make the angels “who kept not their first estate,” in order to damn them. He did not make Lucifer for the purpose of casting him out of Paradise. He did not make Judas for the purpose of sending him to his own place. God made man—every man and every thing—to glorify Himself. Every creature, man, and angel must do this, either actively or passively, either willingly or unwillingly: actively and willingly in Heaven, or passively and unwillingly in hell. This is God’s purpose and it shall stand. God may have many other ends in creation, but this is the chief one, the ultimate one—the one which is above all the others and to which all the rest are subordinate.

In this sense, then, plainly, God did not make men either to destroy them or to save them. He made them for His own glory. If the question is asked, Did God make the devil and his angels only to damn them?, I answer, He made them for His own glory. They are lost forever, but does that prove that He made them to destroy them? He kept their companions from falling (and so they are called the “elect angels,”) while He did not keep them. But does this prove that he made them to destroy them? They fell, and in a moment they were consigned to everlasting chains. He made no effort to save them; He sent no redemption to them. But does that prove that he made them only to destroy them? If ever such an accusation could be preferred against God, it must be in the case of the angels, to whom no salvation was sent. It cannot be said of man, to whom salvation has come.

Whatever is right for God to do, it is right for him to decree. If God’s casting sinners into hell is not wrong or unjust, then His purposing to do so from all eternity cannot be wrong or unjust. So you must either deny that there is a hell or admit God’s right to leave sinners to themselves to go to their own place to dwell there forever. There is no middle way between Calvinism and Universalism.

Let me merely call your attention to two passages of Scripture which would be good for those to ponder who ask such a question:

The LORD has made all things for Himself, yes, even the wicked for the day of doom (Prov. 16:4).

The Scripture says to the Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth…What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?” (Rom. 9:17, 22).

Texts like these are not to be explained away or overlooked. They are part of God’s holy Word—just as much as “God is love.” And if one class of texts is to be twisted or turned away from, why not another? Let us look both in the face, and let us believe them both, whatever difficulty we may find in reconciling them. Our first duty is to believe, but there is nothing in the Bible which we need to shrink from believing. “For an empty-headed man will be wise, when a wild donkey’s colt is born a man” (Job 11:12).

Let me close this important chapter with a brief warning to those who reject and speak against the blessed doctrine of election:

It is not wise to make derogatory remarks about what is in the Bible, whether you understand it or not.

It is not wise to reject what the Bible teaches on any subject, especially if you have not studied what the Bible says about it.

It is not wise to make a hobby out of any one doctrine. Although this doctrine is of vital importance, it is only one doctrine and must not be separated from all Christian truth.

It is not wise to reject any doctrine because it has been abused and misused. All the key doctrines have been perverted.

If it were not for election, your will would take you to hell. You can only get rid of election by getting rid of the Bible. My foremost reason for believing in election is because it is clearly and plainly taught in the Bible.

What Election is Not

Election is not salvation but unto salvation (2 Thess. 2:13, 14; Eph. 1:4; Rom. 8:29, 30).

Election is not exclusive of means (2 Thess. 2:14; Eph. 1:5, 13; 2 Tim. 2:10; 1 Pet. 1:2).

Election is not a respecter of persons (Rom. 9:18—24). Fame, wealth, wisdom, position, etc., did not cause God to have respect for some and thus elect them (Job 34:19). All being ungodly, none could have been saved had he not shown grace to some.

Election is not “salvation regardless,” but unto salvation through the redemption of Christ, applied by the Spirit through the gospel (John 6:37; Rom. 10:17; 1 Thess. 1:4—5; 2 Thess. 2:13, 14; Acts 13:48).

Election is not opposed to the gospel, but the gospel is a means in accomplishing election’s purpose (see Scriptures already cited).

Election is not an enemy of righteousness, but through its appointed means it causes those once ungodly to live godly (Eph. 1:4; 1 Thess. 1:4—10).

Election is not based on unforeseen faith or works, but it produces faith and works. (Rom. 9:11—16; 11:5, 6; Phil. 1:6; 1 Tim. 1:9; Eph. 2:840; Acts 13:48; 1 Cor. 3:5; Rom. 12:3; Eph. 4:7; Acts 5:31; 2 Tim. 2:25.

Election does not shut the door of salvation but opens that door for all those who come to Christ (John 6:37, 44, 63; 10:9; 14:6).

Election is not a hindrance to gospel preaching, but it assures the gospel of success (Isa. 55:11; John 10:27; 6:37, 45; 17:20, 21; Acts 15:14; 16:14; 18:27; 2 Tim. 2:9, 10).

Election is not of the Jews only (Rom. 9:24; 11:5—8, 11, 12, 25; John 11:52).

Election is not merely to service but to salvation (2 Thess. 2:13, 14; 2 Tim. 2:10).

Election is not fatalism but is the work of God (1 Thess. 1:4; Rom. 8:28, 30).

Election does not destroy man’s so-called “free will.” The will of man is his desire, wish or choice. His choice is sin (John 3:19, 20; 5:40; 3:11; 2:2, 3; 4:17—19; Jer. 17:9; 13:23; etc.). Man “freely”chooses sin, and by God’s grace, the elect freely choose Christ (Ps. 65:4; 110:3; John 6:44, 65; Acts 13:48). Lazarus “freely” rotted, but at the word of Christ, he “freely” came forth (John 11); and so do the elect of God.

Election is not anti-missionary but gives the foundation for missions (John 6:37; 17:20, 21; 2 Tim. 2:10; Isa. 55:11; 2 Pet. 3:9, 15).

Election does not destroy the responsibility of man. Men are responsible with whatever light they have, be it conscience (Rom. 2:15), nature (Rom. 1:19—20), written law (Rom. 2:17—27), or the gospel (Mark 16:15—16). Man’s inability to do righteousness no more frees him from responsibility than does Satan’s inability to do righteousness.

Election does not make God unjust. His blessing of a great number of unworthy sinners with salvation is no injustice to the rest of the unworthy sinners. If a government pardons one convict, is it injustice to the rest? (1 Thess. 5:9)

Election does not discourage convicted sinners but welcomes them to Christ. “Let him who thirsts come” (Rev. 22:17). The God who saves is the God who has elected men unto salvation. He is the same God who invites.

Election does not discourage prayer. To the contrary, it drives us to God, for He it is who alone can save. True prayer is the Spirit’s prompting; and thus will be in harmony with God’s will (Rom. 8:28).

Election is not of man. Some say, “God votes, the devil votes, and man votes.” The Bible teaches that election is not of the devil and man but “of God” (1 Thess. 1:4; John 10:16; 1 John 4:10, 19).

Election is not of reason but of revelation. At first itdoes not appeal to man’s reason; but when man accepts God’s Word, it is seen to be the only thing that could be “reasonable” (Matt. 20:15).

Unbelievably, many people do not know that election is in the Bible. Worse yet, the biblical teaching on the subject has been very little discussed, taught, or preached. Someone once must have thought it important because it is in our Baptist Faith and Messaqe: “Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He regenerates, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners.”9

It is not only in our Articles of Faith, but we sing it in many of our hymns—the second stanza of “The Church’s One Foundation” begins “Elect from every nation…”

More importantly, it is in the Bible; and if only one point is made in this chapter, let it be that everyone who believes the Bible must believe in election.

God’s Will, Man’s Will and Free Will – Part 3

Here is chapter two of Ernest Reisinger’s book on The Will:

Free Will and Man’s Four-fold State
(Part Two)

In this chapter, we will continue to consider free will and man’s four-fold state. In the last chapter, we considered man’s will in the state of innocence and man’s will in the state of degeneration (his unregenerate state).

The State of Grace or The State of Regeneration

In this state the person is both a saint and a sinner at the same time. In this third state the free power of choice belongs to a man as a regenerate person, but his will is not yet perfected as it will be in the glorified state.

In this state of grace, the will no longer uses its liberty openly for doing that which is evil, as it did before regeneration. Now the will chooses both—partly the good and partly the evil.

In this state of regeneration, there is freedom from the love of sin and from the dominion of sin.  “Sin shall not have dominion over you” (Rom. 6:14).  Our Lord said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).

Zacharias Ursinus, in his Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, gives us an excellent exposition on the will of man in the state of grace:

The regenerate man does that which is good, because the Holy Spirit, by his special grace, has renovated the nature of man through the Word of God—has kindled new light and knowledge in the understanding, and has awakened in the heart and will such new desires and inclinations, as are in harmony with the divine law; and because the Holy Spirit effectually inclines the will to do those things which are in accordance with this knowledge, and with these desires and inclinations. It is in this way that the will recovers both the power of willing that which is acceptable to God, and the use of this power, so that it commences to obey God according to these declarations of his word: “The Lord thy God will circumcise thy heart.” “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh.” “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin.” (Deut. 30:6, Exod. 36:26, 2 Cor. 3:17, 1 John 3:9) The reasons, on account of which the will in this third degree chooses and does in part both the good and the evil, are the following:

1. Because the mind and will of those who are regenerated, are not fully perfectly renewed in this life. There are many remains of depravity which cleave to the best of men, as long as they continue in the flesh, so that the works which they perform are imperfect, and defiled with sin. “I know that in me, (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing.” (Rom. 7:18)

2. Because those who are regenerated are not always governed by the Holy Spirit; but are sometimes forsaken of God for a season, that he may thus either try, or humble them. Yet, although they are thus left to themselves for a time, they do not finally perish, for God, in his own time and way, calls them to repentance. “Take not thy Holy Spirit from me.” “0 Lord, why hast thou made us to err from thy ways, and hardened our heart from thy fear. Return, for thy servant’s sake.” (Ps. 5 1:13, Isa. 63:17)

In short, after regeneration, there is a proneness to choose partly the good, and partly the evil. There is a proneness to the good, because the mind and will being illuminated and changed, begin, in some measure, to be turned to the good, and to commence new obedience. There is a proneness to the evil, because the saints are only imperfectly renewed in this life—retain many infirmities and evil desires, on account of original sin, which still cleaves to them. Hence the good works which they perform are not perfectly good.

Therefore, in this state of grace, the regenerated believer freely chooses good, yet that good is mixed with evil because of his remaining sin. Using his freedom to perfectly choose good will only come under the fourth state.

The State of Glorification or The State of Perfect Regeneration

In this state of perfect and glorious liberty, the will of man will be perfectly restored and perfectly regenerated. Another quote from Ursinus will be helpful.

In this state, the will of man will be free to choose only the good, and not the evil. This will be the highest degree, or the perfect liberty of the human will, when we shall obey God fully and forever. In this state we shall not only not sin, but we will abhor it above every thing else; yea, we shall then no longer be able to sin. In proof of this we may adduce the following reasons: First, the perfect knowledge of God will then shine in the mind, while there will be the strongest and most ardent desire of the will and heart to obey God; so that there will be no room left for ignorance or doubt, or the least contempt of God.

Secondly, in the life to come, the saints will never be forsaken, but will be constantly and forever ruled by the Holy Spirit, so that it will not be possible for them to deviate in the smallest respect from that which is right. Hence it is said: “They are as the angels of God in heaven.” “We shall be like him.” (Matt. 22:30, 1 John 3:3) The good angels are inclined only to that which is good, because they are good; just as the bad angels, on the other hand, are inclined to that which is evil, because they are evil. But we shall be like the good angels. Our condition will, therefore, be one of far greater excellence than that of Adam before the fall. Adam was, indeed, perfectly conformed to God; but he had the power to will both the good and the evil; and therefore, with all his gifts, he had a certain infirmity, viz: the possibility to fall from God, and to lose his gifts. He was changeably good. But we shall not be able to will any thing but the good. Just as the wicked are inclined and led to do evil only, because they are wicked; so we shall be inclined to that which is good, and love and choose it alone, because we shall be unchangeably good. We shall then be so fully established in righteousness and conformity to God, that it will not be possible for us to fall from him; yes, it will then be impossible for us to will any thing that is evil, because we shall be preserved by divine grace in that state of perfect liberty in which the will will choose the good only.

From these things which we have now said in relation to human freedom, it is manifestly a foul slander to say that we take away the liberty of the will. And although those who are renewed and glorified will not be able to will any thing but the good, after their glorification; yet their power of choice will then be free to a much greater extent than it now is; for God, also, cannot will any thing but the good, and yet he possesses perfect freedom of will. So on the other hand, we do not take away the power of choice from the ungodly, or such as are unregenerated, when we affirm that they are not able to will any thing but that which is evil; for they will and choose the evil freely—yea, most freely. Their will is inclined and carried with the greatest impetuosity, to evil only; because they continually retain in their hearts, hatred to God. Hence, all the works which they perform of an external moral character, are evil in the sight of God, as we have already shown in our remarks upon the doctrine of sin.

There are six things related to this Eternal State:

  1. Death: “For I know that You will bring me to death, and to the house appointed for all living” (Job 30:23).
  2. The Difference between the righteous and the wicked in their death: “The wicked is banished in his wickedness, but the righteous has a refuge in his death” (Prov. 14:32).
  3. The resurrection: “Do not marvel at this: for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life; and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation” (John 5:28—29).
  4. The general judgment: “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And he will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed…’ [but] to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed…’ And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matt. 25:31—34, 41, 46).
  5. The kingdom of heaven: “Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’” (Matt. 25:34).
  6. Hell: “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels'” (Matt. 25:41)

It can be seen that the Bible teaches that man has no ability to save himself, and indeed, has lost the power that Adam had to choose to do good.  He is perfectly free to choose and act in accordance with his own nature, just as the glorified man will freely choose to please God in all things.   For now men have no power to please God without having his nature radically changed by the Holy Spirit.  Our methods and message of evangelism should be greatly impacted by this fact.  It is all so vitally important to the Christian faith.