The Confession of Faith: A commentary on The Westminster Confession of Faith
Of Free Will
Section I: God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty, that it is neither forced, nor, by any absolute necessity of nature, determined to good, or evil.
Scripture Proof Texts
1. James 1:13-14; 4:7; Deut. 30:19; Isa. 7:11-12; Matt. 17:12; John 5:40
This section teaches the great fundamental truth of consciousness and. revelation, which renders moral government possible -- that man, in virtue of his creation, is endowed with an inalienable faculty of self-determination, the power of acting or not acting, and of acting in the way which the man himself, upon the whole view of the case, desires at the time. There are only three generically different views upon this subject possible: --
1. That which regards the actions of men as caused directlyby outward circumstances and occasions, under the same great law of necessity which governs the movements of all material agents.
2. That affected by the Arminians and others, which regards the will in man, or his bare faculty of volition, as possessing o, mysterious capacity of self-determination, irrespective of all the judgments of the understanding and the affections of the heartand the entire state of the man's soul it the time.
3. That which is taught in this section -- namely, that the human soul, including all its instincts, ideas, judgments, affections, and tendencies, has the power of self-decision; that is, the soul decides in every case as, upon the whole, it pleases.
That the first-stated view is not true is proved -- (1.) From the universal consciousness of men with respect to their own action, and observation of the action of other men. We are all conscious of possessing the power of determining our own action irrespective of any or of all external influences. In every caseof deliberate choice we are conscious that we might have chosenthe opposite if we had wished to do so, all outward circumstancesremaining unchanged. We see that all material substances act only as they are acted upon, and in the same conditions invariablyact in the same way. But, on the other hand, we see that our fellow-men, like ourselves, possess without exception the power of originating action; and that, if they please, they act very variously under the same circumstances. Circumstances, including the sum total of conditions and relations, control the actionof all material agents, while personal agents control circumstances.
(2.) The same is proved by the fact that man is held responsiblealike by his own conscience and by God for his own action. This evidently could not be the case if his action were caused bycircumstances, and not freely by the man himself.
That the second view, which supposes that a man possesses the power to choose without respect to his judgments or inclinations is not true; and that the third view, which supposesthat a man possesses the inalienable faculty of choosing as uponthe whole he judges right or desirable, is true, are proved --
(1.) From the consideration that while we are conscious, inevery deliberate act of choice, that we might have chosen otherwise, all the external conditions being the same, we always feelthat our choice was determined by the sum-total of our views,feelings, and tendencies at the time. A man freely chooses what he wants to choose. He would not choose freely if he chose inany other way. But his desire in the premises is determined by his whole intellectual and emotional state at the time.
(2.) It is plain that if the human will decided in any given case in opposition to all the views of the reason and all the desires of the heart, however free the will might be, the man would be a most pitiful slave to a mere irrational and immoralpower of willing.
(3.) All men judge that the rational and moral character ofany act results from the purpose or desire, the internal state ofmind or heart, which prompted the act. If the man wills inany given case in opposition to all his judgments and to all his inclinations of every kind, his act in that case would obviouslybe neither rational nor moral; and the man himself, in respectto that act, would be neither free nor responsible.
(4.) If the human soul had the power to act thus irrespective of its entire interior intellectual and emotional condition at the time, such action could neither be foreseen nor controlled by God, nor influenced by men, and such exercise of volitional power would be absolutely fortuitous. It would sustain no certain relation to the character of the agent. Christ taught, in opposition to this, that human action is determined by the character of the agent as certainly as the nature of the fruit is determined by the nature of the tree from which it springs; and that the only way to change the character of the action is to change the permanent character or moral tendency and habit of the heart of the agent. Matt. vii. 16 -- 20; xii. 33-35.
Section II: Man, in his state of innocency, had freedom, and power to will and to do that which was good and well pleasing to God; but yet, mutably, so that he might fall from it.
Scripture Proof Texts
2. Eccl. 7:29; Gen. 1:26, 31; Col. 3:10 3. Gen. 2:16-17; 3:6, 17
Section III: Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation: so as, a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.
Scripture Proof Texts
4. Rom. 5:5; 8:7-8; John 6:44, 65; 15:5 5. Rom. 3:9-10, 12, 23 6. Eph. 2:1, 5; Col 2:13 7. John 3:3, 5-6; 6:44, 65; I Cor. 2:14; Titus 3:3-5
Section IV: When God converts a sinner, and translates him into the state of grace, he freeth him from his natural bondage under sin; and, by his grace alone, enables him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good; yet so, as that by reason of his remaining corruption, he doth not perfectly, nor only, will that which is good, but doth also will that which is evil.
Scripture Proof Texts
8. Col. 1:13; John 8:34, 36; Rom. 6:6-7 9. Phil. 2:13; Rom. 6:14, 17-19, 22 10. Gal. 5:17; Rom. 7:14-25; I John 1:8, 10
Section V: The will of man is made perfectly and immutably free to good alone, in the state of glory only.
Scripture Proof Texts
11. Heb. 12:23; I John 3:2; Jude 1:24; Rev. 21:27
These sections briefly state and contrast the various conditions which characterize the free agency of man in his four different estates of innocency, hereditary sin, grace, and glory. In all these estates man is unchangeably a free, responsible agent, andin all cases choosing or refusing as, upon the whole, he prefersto do. A man's volition is as his desires are in the given case.His desires in any given case are as they are determined to beby the general or permanent tastes, tendencies, and habitudes ofhis character. He is responsible for his desires, because theyare determined by the nature and permanent characteristics ofhis own soul. He is responsible for these, because they are thetendencies and qualities of his own nature. If these are immoral,he and his actions are immoral. If these are holy, he and hisactions are holy.
When we say that man is a free agent, we mean (1.) That hehas the power of originating action; that he is self-moved,and does not only move as he is moved upon from without.(2.) That he always wills that which, upon the whole view of thecase presented by his understanding at the time, he desires towill. (3.) That man is furnished with a reason to distinguishbetween the true and the false, and a conscience to distinguishbetween the right and the wrong, in order that his desires andconsequent volitions may be both rational and righteous; andyet his desires are not necessarily either rational or righteous,but they are formed under the light of reason and conscience,either conformable or contrary to them, according to the permanent habitual disposition or moral character of the soul itself.
1. Adam in his estate of innocency was a free agent, createdwith holy affections and moral tendencies; yet with a characteras yet unconfirmed, capable of obedience, yet liable to be seduced.by external temptation, and by the inordinate excitement of thepropensions of his animal nature, such as in their proper degreeand due subordination are innocent. Of this state of a holy yetfallible nature we have no experience, and consequently veryimperfect comprehension.
2. As to man's present estate, our Standards teach -- (1.) Thatman is still a free agent, and able to will as upon the whole hedesires to will. (2.) That he has likewise ability to dischargemany of the natural obligations which spring out of his relationsto his fellow-men. (3.) That his soul by reason of the fall beingmorally corrupted and spiritually dead, his understanding being spiritually blind, and his affections perverted, he is "utterlyindisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and whollyinclined to all evil " (Conf. Faith, ch. vi., section 4, and ch. xvi., section 3;L. Cat., q. 25); and hence he "hath wholly lost all ability ofwill to any spiritual good accompanying salvation;" so that he"is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself," or even" to prepare himself thereunto." Conf. Faith, ch. ix., section 8. Thesame view is taught in all the Protestant Confessions, Lutheranand Reformed.
Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England, Art. 10: " Thecondition of man after the fall of Adam is such, that he cannotturn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and goodworks, to faith, and calling upon God:wherefore wehave nopower to do good works pleasant and acceptable to God, withoutthe grace of God by Christ preventing us, that we may have agood will, and working with us when we have that good will."
Articles of Synod of Dort, chap. iii., Art. 3: "All men areconceived in sin, and born children of wrath, indisposed to allsaving good, propense to evil, dead in sins and the slaves of sin;and without the grace of the regenerating Holy Spirit they areneither willing nor able to return to God, to correct their depraved nature, or to dispose themselves to the correction of it."
FormofConcord,p.579,Hase'sCollection (Lutheran):" Therefore we believe that as it is impossible for a dead bodyto revive itself, or to communicate animal life to itself, in thesame degree is it impossible for a man, spiritually dead by reasonof sin, to recall spiritual life within himself." lb. p. 653: "Webelieve that neither the intellect, heart, nor will of the unregenerate man, is able of its own natural strength either to understand,believe, embrace, will, begin, perfect, perform, operate, or cooperate anything, in thingsdivine and spiritual; but man is sofar dead and corrupt in respect to good, that in the nature ofman since the fall, and before regeneration, there is not even ascintilla of spiritual strength remaining whereby he can preparehimself for the grace ofGod, orapprehend thatgrace whenoffered, or is able in whole or in half, or in the least part, toapply or accommodate himself to that grace, or to confer or toact, or to operate or to co-operate anything for his own conversion."
By liberty we mean the inalienable prerogative of the humansoul of exercising volition as it pleases. In this sense man is asfree now as before the fall. By ability we mean the capacityeither to will in opposition to the desires and affections of thesoul at the time, or by a bare exercise of volition to make oneself desire and love that which one does not spontaneously desireor love. We affirm that liberty is, and that ability in this senseis not, an element of the constitution of the soul. A man alwayswills as upon the whole he pleases, but he cannot will himself toplease differently from what he does please. The moral condition of the heart determines the act of the will, but the act ofthe will cannot change the moral condition of the heart.
This inability is -- (1.) Absolute. Man has no power, direct orindirect, to fulfill the moral law, or to accept Christ, or to changehis nature so as to increase his power; and so can neither do hisduty without grace, nor prepare himself by himself for grace.(2.) It is purely moral, because man possesses since the fall asmuch as before all the constitutional faculties requisite to moralagency, and his inability has its ground solely in the wrong moralstate of those faculties. It is simply the evil moral dispositionof the soul. (3.) It is natural, because it is not accidental, butinnate and inheres in the universal and radical moral state of oursouls by nature; that is, as that nature is naturally propagatedsince the fall. (4.) It is not natural in the sense of belonging tothe nature of man as originally formed by God, or as resultingfrom any constitutional deficiency, or development of our naturalmoral faculties as originally given by God.
That this doctrine is true is proved -- (1.) From direct declarations of Scripture: "Can theEthiopian change his skin, or theleopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil." Jer. xiii.23. "No man can cometo me,except the Father which hath sent me draw him......No man cancome unto me, except it be given unto him of my Father." Johnvi. 44, 65; Rom. ix. 16; 1 Cor. ii. 14. (2.) From what theScriptures say of man's state by nature. It is declared to be astate of " blindness " and "darkness " and of " spiritual death."Eph. iv. 18; Col. ii. 13. The unregenerate are the "servantsof sin"and "subjectto Satan."Rom. vi.16, 20;2 Tim ii. 26; Matt. xii. 33 -- 36. (3.) From what the Scriptures say ofthe nature and the universal and absolute necessity of regeneration: " Except a man be bornagain, he cannot enter the kingdomof heaven." John iii. 3. It is called a new birth, a new creation,a begetting anew, a giving a new heart. John iii. 3, 7; Eph. ii. 10;1 John v. 18; Ezek. xxxvi. 26. In this work God is the agent,man is the subject. It is so great that it requires the "mightypower" of God. Eph. i. 18 -- 20. All Christian duties are declaredto be " the fruits of the Spirit." Gal. v. 22, 23. (4.) From theexperience of every true Christian. (5.) From the consciousnessof every convinced sinner. The great burden of all true conviction is not chiefly the sinscommitted, but the sinful deadness ofheart and aversion to divine things, which is the root of actualtransgression, and which remains immovable in spite of all wedo. (6.) From the universal experience of the human race. Ifany man has ever naturally possessed ability toperform hisspiritual duties, it is certain that no one has ever exercised it.
3. As to the estate into which the regenerate are introducedby grace, our Standards affirm -- (1.) The regenerated Christianremains, as before, a free agent, willing always as upon the wholehe desires to will. (2.) In the act of regeneration the HolySpirit has implanted a new spiritual principle, habit, or tendencyin the affections of the soul, which, being subsequently nourished and directed by theindwellingSpirit, freesthe manfrom his natural bondage under sin, and enables him prevailingly to will freely that which is spiritually good. And yet,because of the lingeringremains ofhis oldcorrupt moralhabit of soul, there remains a conflict of tendencies, so thatthe Christian does not perfectly nor only will that which isgood, but doth also will that which is evil. These points willbe discussed under chapters x. and xiii.
4. As to the estate of glorified men in heaven, our Confession teaches that theycontinue, as before, free agents, butthat, all the remains of their old corruptmoral tendenciesbeing extirpated for ever, and the gracious dispositions implantedinregenerationbeingperfected, andthe wholeman beingbrought tothe measureof thestature ofperfect manhoodin the likeness of Christ'sglorified humanity,they remain for ever perfectly free and immutably disposed to perfect holiness.Adamwasholyand unstable.Unregenerate menare unholyand stable; that is, fixed in unholiness. Regenerate men havetwo opposite moral tendencies contesting for empire in theirhearts. They are cast about between them, yetthe tendencygraciously implanted gradually in the end perfectly prevails.Glorified men are holy and stable. All are free, and thereforeresponsible.
Text scanned and Edited by Michael Bremmer