Our Will - Free to Do As We Please


Our Will- Free to as we please 

In a capsule, the book “Freedom of the Will”, Jonathan Edwards argues that…

“God’s moral government over mankind, his treating them as moral agents, making them the objects of his commands, counsels, calls, and warnings… is not inconsistent with a determining disposal of all events, of every kind throughout the universe, in his providence; either by positive efficiency or permission. (p. 431)

There is no such thing as freedom of the will in the Arminian sense of a will that ultimately determines itself.  The will rather is determined by “that motive which, as stands in the view of the mind, is the strongest.” (p.141)

But motives are given, not ultimately controllable by the will.

For Augustinian it is the delight that Guides the Will
Here Edwards found himself squarely in the great Reformed Augustinian tradition. Augustine, the African Bishop of Hippo, had analyzed his own motives down to this root: Everything springs from delight.  He saw this in a universal:

“Every man, whatsoever his condition, desires to be happy.  There is no man who does not desire this, and each one desires it with such earnestness that he prefers it to all other things; whoever, in fact, desires other things, desires them for this end alone. (Thomas A. Hand, Augustine On Prayer, p. 13 (sermon 306))

This is what guides and governs the will, namely, what we consider to be our delight.  But the catch that made Pelagius, Augustine’s antagonist, so angry was that it is not in our power to determine what this delight will be.  Thus Augustine asks,

Who has it in his power to have such a motive present to his mind that his will shall be influenced to believe?  Who can welcome in his mind something which does not give him delight?  But who has it in his power to ensure that something that will delight him will turn up?  Or that he will take delight in what turns up?  If those things delight us which serve our advancement toward God, that is due not to our own whim or industry or meritorious works, but to the inspiration of God and to the grace which he bestows. (Quote from Augustine’s to Simplician in T. Kermint Scott, Augustine: His thought in Context, p. 203)

So Saving Grace, Converting grace, for Augustine is God’s giving us a sovereign joy in God that triumphs over all other Joys and therefore sways the will.  The will is free to move toward whatever it delights in most fully, but it is not within the power of our will to determine what that sovereign joy will be. (John Piper, God’s Passion for His Glory, p. 87)

Therefore Augustine concludes, “A man’s free will, indeed, avails for nothing except sin.  If he knows not the way of truth; and even after his duty and his proper aim shall begin to become known to him, unless he also take delight in and feel a love for it, he neither does his duty, nor sets about it, nor lives rightly.  Now, in order that such a course may engage our affections, God’s ‘love is shed abroad in our hearts’ not through the free-will which arises from ourselves, but ‘through the Holy Ghost, which is given to us’ (Romans 5:5) (T. Kermint Scott, Augustine: His thought in Context, p. 208)

An Inability that leaves Responsibility in place.
In this tradition, Jonathan Edwards explained that all people are enslaved, as Saint Paul says, either to sin or to righteousness (Romans 6:16-23); see also John 8:34; 1 John 3:9); but slavery to sin, inability to love and trust God (see Romans 8:8), does not excuse the sinner , for this inability is moral, not physical.  It is not an inability that prevents a man from believing when he would like to believe; rather, it is a moral corruption of the heart that renders motives to believe ineffectual.  The person thus enslaved to sin cannot believe without the miracle of regeneration, but is nevertheless accountable because of the evil of his heart, which disposes him to be unmoved by reasonable motives in the Gospel