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20 October, 2008 / theexpositor

Spurgeon on Free-Will

“I feel persuaded that false doctrine, inasmuch as it touches God’s sovereignty, is always an object of divine jealousy. Let me indicate especially the doctrines of free-will. I know there are some good men who hold and preach them, but I am persuaded that the Lord must be grieved with their doctrine though he forgives them their sin of ignorance. Free-will doctrine—what does it? It magnifies man into God; it declares God’s purposes a nullity, since they cannot be carried out unless men are willing. It makes God’s will a waiting servant to the will of man, and the whole covenant of grace dependent upon human action. Denying election on the ground of injustice it holds God to be a debtor to sinners, so that if he gives grace to one he is bound to do so to all. It teaches that the blood of Christ was shed equally for all men and since some are lost, this doctrine ascribes the difference to man’s own will, thus making the atonement itself a powerless thing until the will of man gives it efficacy. Those sentiments dilute the scriptural description of man’s depravity, and by imputing strength to fallen humanity, rob the Spirit of the glory of his effectual grace: this theory says in effect that it is of him that willeth, and of him that runneth, and not of God that showeth mercy.

Any doctrine, my brethren, which stands in opposition to this truth—”I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy,” provokes God’s jealousy. I often tremble in this pulpit lest I should utter anything which should oppose the sovereignty of my God; and though you know I am not ashamed to preach the responsibility of man to God—if God be a sovereign, man must be bound to obey him—on the other hand, I am equally bold to preach that God has a right to do what he wills with his own, that he giveth no account of his matters and none may stay his hand, or say unto him, “What doest thou?” I believe that the free-will heresy assails the sovereignty of God, and mars the glory of his dominion. In all faithfulness, mingled with sorrow, I persuade you who have been deluded by it, to see well to your ways and receive the truth which sets God on high, and lays the creature in the dust.” — C. H. Spurgeon



  1. Brett S / Oct 21 2008 16 19

    I’m not sure I follow the point that Spurgeon is making; but if he’s saying that free-will doesn’t save us I say AMEN preach it brother. The human choices or decisions that we make can never replace the cross.

    But it’s hard to deny that human beings have a free-will. God doesn’t force me to yell at my wife, kick the dog, or cuss in front of children (and it would be way too easy to say the devil made me do it.) God created us in His image and likeness; and that includes a will, right. Or, am I wrong about this?

    “The free man owns himself. He can damage himself with either eating or drinking; he can ruin himself with gambling. If he does he is certainly a damn fool, and he might possibly be a damned soul; but if he may not, he is not a free man any more than a dog.”
    GK Chesterton – 1935

  2. the Rev. Bryan Dabney / Oct 21 2008 23 12

    This was the hardest of the biblical concepts for me to embrace and one that is indispensible in that it covers the issue of God’s sovereignty in all of life. The Scriptures are clear that faith is a gift, and if it is such, it is not our choice but God’s. Once I accepted that I had no choice but that God had done it all for me, I was relieved spiritually, for I knew that my salvation rested not on my own efforts, but on the Lord Jesus Christ. To him be the glory now and forever. Amen.

  3. John Daly / Oct 26 2008 12 26

    My free will is captive to sin, it runs to it, so it’s quite natural to want to kick the dog. (Legal disclaimer: I have never kicked my dog.) But my free will does not desire the things of Christ because it is dead in sin. Physically speaking, I’m not drowning in the ocean where someone needs to throw me a life preserver. I’m at the bottom of the ocean where my cold, lifeless corpse is serving as fish fodder. I can no more choose to live then my “free-will” can choose spiritual life.

    BTW Mike, you and your “staff” do a fine job 🙂

  4. Brett S / Oct 27 2008 15 05

    I still think it’s wrong to consuse people by saying free-will does not exist; rather that giving a clear explaination of free will. Our Lord himself gave a clear example of how our will should exist in relationship to God’s will to be truly free.
    “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” Luke 22:42

    God has brought a new covenant in which we become part of the Father’s adopted family.
    “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” – Romans 8:15
    “to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” – Galatians 4:5

    God sent his own son to save us from our sins, and as adopted sons of his family God wants to save us from the stupid choices that our disordered wills can make. I don’t understand how human fathers (a pale image of God’s fatherhood) can have a problem with free-will. I love my own flesh and blood children dearly, and patiently struggle in teaching them the way they should go. But believe it or not, those little ingrates have the nerve to deny my will at times.
    “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” – Luke 11:13

    If “my free will does not desire the things of Christ” (as John Daly wrote) then why waste my time reading the bible?

  5. Douglas / Oct 28 2008 12 10

    But believe it or not, those little ingrates have the nerve to deny my will at times.

    Yes, but your will is still greater than theirs even when they disobey your will. We disobey the the will of God every day don’t we, that is called sin isn’t it? Even when we disobey the will of God, God is still autonomous and we are not. We are still subject to God’s law. Not justified by keeping of God’s law but we are subject to God and to His law, God is not subject to us.

    Sorry that this is a tad long, I do hope it helps.

    The topic of “Free Will” is a very important subject and it is so easily misunderstood. It needs some serious, hard thinking.

    Do we have a will? Yes, of course we have a will. Calvin said, if you mean by a free will a faculty of choosing by which you have the power within yourself to choose what you desire, then we all have free will. If you mean by free will the ability for fallen human beings to incline themselves and exercise that will to choose the things of God without the prior monergistic work of regeneration then, said Calvin, free will is far too grandiose a term to apply to a human being.

    The semi-Pelagian doctrine of free will prevalent in the evangelical world today is a pagan view that denies the captivity of the human heart to sin. It underestimates the stranglehold that sin has upon us.” – R. C. Sproul The Pelagian Captivity of the Church

    Important Note : Many persons naturally assume that man has a free will. But what do they mean by this? You may want to ask them to define terms by asking, “Free from what?” “Free from sin?”, “Free from God’s decree?” No, neither. So what do people actually mean when they claim man has a free will? Perhaps many persons mean to say that man is free from external coersion. In this we all can agree, but just because someone is free from coersion does not mean his will is free. There are other ways in which man’s will is not free. If the natural man make choices BY NECESSITY then he also lacks a kind of freedom. We might want to consider whether the Bible uses the expression ‘freedom’ to describe any fallen man. And the answer is no, not UNTIL Christ sets us free (Rom 6). Jesus says that prior to grace, persons are ‘slaves to sin’. And, last time I looked, a slave is not free. If man is in bondage to a corruption of nature, as the Scripture attests, then he is not, in any sense, free as the Bible defines it. That is, until the grace of God in Christ sets him free. It would be correct to say man HAS A WILL and that his choices are VOLUNTARY (not coerced) but this does not make the choices free. Fallen man chooses sin of NECESSITY due to a corruption of nature, and this is just as much a form of bondage of the will from which we need to be set free by Christ, and a more properly biblical way of expression. Just because we make these choices, of necessity, does not alleviate our responsibility. If we borrow $5 million and squander it in a week of wild living in Las Vegas [like our condition of debt after the fall], our inability to repay the debt does not alleviate us of any responsibility to do so (see Rom 3:20). So I contend that whenever speaking about the concept of “free will,” because of the confusion surrounding it, we should only define freedom as the Bible does: that man’s will is not free, but rather is in bondage to sin. Clearly the Bible affirms that apart from a supernatural and merciful work of the Holy Spirit to change our naturally hostile disposition to God, no person would ever receive Christ (John 6:65). And Just as water does not rise above its source, so unspiritual men do not think or act spiritually (1 Cor 2:14). -” J.W.H


    At this very moment you are reading these words because you choose of your own free will to read them. You may protest and say, “No! I didn’t choose to read them. I was given an assignment to read this book. I really don’t want to be reading it.” Perhaps that is the case. Nevertheless you are reading it. Maybe there are other things you would rather be doing at the moment, but you have made a choice to read it nevertheless. You decided to read it instead of not reading it.

    I don’t know why you are reading this. But I do know that you must have a reason for reading it. If you had no reason to read it, you simply would not have chosen to read it.

    Every choice that we make in life we make for some reason. Our decisions are based upon what seems good for us at the moment, all things considered. We do some things out of intense desire. We do other things with no awareness of desire at all. Yet the desire is there or we wouldn’t choose to do them. This is the very essence of free will—to choose according to our desires.

    Jonathan Edwards, in his work The Freedom of the Will, defines the will as “that by which the mind chooses.” 1 There can be no doubt that human beings do indeed make choices. I am choosing to write, you are choosing to read. I will to write, and writing is set in motion. When the idea of freedom is added, however, the issue becomes terribly complicated. We have to ask, freedom to do what? Even the most ardent Calvinist would not deny that the will is free to choose whatever it desires. Even the most ardent Arminian would agree that the will is not free to choose what it does not desire.

    With regard to salvation, the question then becomes, what do human beings desire? The Arminian believes that some desire to repent and be saved. Others desire to flee from God and thus reap eternal damnation. Why different people have different desires is never made clear by the Arminian. The Calvinist holds that all human beings desire to flee from God unless and until the Holy Spirit performs a work of regeneration. That regeneration changes our desires so that we will freely repent and be saved.

    It is important to note that even the unregenerate are never forced against their will. Their wills are changed without their permission, but they are always free to choose as they will. Thus we are indeed free to do as we will. We are not free, however, to choose or select our nature. One cannot simply declare, “Henceforth I will desire only the good” anymore than Christ could have declared, “Henceforth I will desire only evil.” This is where our freedom stops.

    The Fall left the human will intact insofar as we still have the faculty of choosing. Our minds have been darkened by sin and our desires bound by wicked impulses. But we can still think, choose, and act. Yet something terrible has happened to us. We have lost all desire for God. The thoughts and desires of our heart are only evil continuously. The freedom of our will is a curse. Because we can still choose according to our desires, we choose to sin and thus we become accountable to the judgment of God.

    Augustine said that we still have free will, but we have lost our liberty. The royal liberty of which the Bible speaks is the freedom or power to choose Christ as our own. But until our heart is changed by the Holy Spirit, we have no desire for Christ. Without that desire we never will choose Him. God must awaken our soul and give us a desire for Christ before we will ever be inclined to choose Him.

    Edwards said that as fallen human beings we retain our natural freedom (the power to act according to our desires) but lose moral freedom.2 Moral freedom includes the disposition, inclination, and desire of the soul toward righteousness. It is this inclination that was lost in the Fall.

    Every choice I make is determined by something. There is a reason for it, a desire behind it. This sounds like determinism. By no means! Determinism teaches that our actions are completely controlled by something external to us, making us do what we don’t want to do. That is coercion and is opposed to freedom.

    How can our choices be determined but not coerced? Because they are determined by something within—by what we are and by what we desire. They are determined by ourselves. This is self-determination, which is the very essence of freedom.

    To be sure, for us to choose Christ, God must change our heart. That is precisely what He does. He changes our heart for us. He gives us a desire for Himself that we otherwise would not have. Then we choose Him out of the desire that is within us. We freely choose Him because we want to choose Him. That is the wonder of His grace.

    1. Jonathan Edwards, The Freedom of the Will, ed. Paul Ramsey (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1973), 137.
    2. Edwards, The Freedom of the Will, 156.

    1. Every choice we make is for a reason.
    2. We always choose according to our strongest inclination at the moment of choice.
    3. The will is the choosing faculty.
    4. Fallen human beings have free will but lack liberty. We have natural freedom but not moral freedom.
    5. Freedom is self-determination.
    6. In regeneration, God changes the disposition of our heart and plants a desire for Himself within us.

    Biblical passages for reflection:
    Deuteronomy 30:19-20
    John 6:44, 65
    John 8:34-36
    Romans 8:5-8
    James 1:13-15

    pages 179-181 “Essential Truths of the Christian Faith” by R. C. Sproul

    How do we reconcile the fact that God is sovereign with the fact that he has given us free will as persons?
    by R.C. Sproul

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