Results tagged “free will” from Through the Westminster Confession

Chapter 9.4

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iv. When God converts a sinner, and translates him into the state of grace, He frees 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 does not perfectly, or only, will that which is good, but does also will that which is evil.

Following the Augustinian/Bostonian grammar of sin and grace, the Confession teaches that if the natural man is in a condition whereby he cannot not sin (non posse non peccare), the Christian is in a condition whereby he is free to sin (posse peccare) and free to obey (posse non peccare). Although now in a "state of grace," there remains a constraining tension between the urge to sin and the urge to live in holiness. The Adamic instinct, though dethroned, is not yet destroyed and occasionally gets the mastery. To employ an Augustinain understanding of Romans 7, the good and the evil fight for mastery (Rom. 7:14-25), the "flesh" and the "spirit" are in opposition (Gal. 5:17) and when either sin or holiness is the path, it is a chosen path. 

We sin voluntarily even as Christians. At no time can we say, "the Devil made me do it." We remain morally and spiritually culpable. Whether we choose the good or choose the evil, the choice is voluntary on our part. The will determines according to our nature and is not constrained to operate against it. 

Chapter 9.2

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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. 

Along with the trivial sense of free will - what today we term free agency - Adam also possessed free will in the important sense, what since the second century has been understood as the ability to make all the moral choices that any given situation suggests. This understanding of free will was lost by Adam at the Fall. In the Latin grammar of Thomas Boston: Adam before the Fall was posse peccare (able to sin) and posse non peccare (able not to sin); after the Fall, Adam was non posse non peccare (not able not to sin). He lost the ability not to sin. Adam (and, along with him, his seed) found himself in a state of moral inability. He lost free will in this carefully defined way. 

God created Adam with a mutable (changeable) free will. Adam's Fall plunged all his progeny into this state of misery. Genesis 3:6 carefully describes Adam and Eve's choice to eat of the forbidden fruit: "So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate." God created them "upright" (Ecc. 7:29), but placed them in a probationary state. 

Chapter 9.1

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i. God has endued the will of man with that natural liberty, that is neither forced, nor, by any absolute necessity of nature, determined good, or evil

There is something of interest about the location of this chapter within the Confession. It falls immediately after a chapter describing all that Christ has achieved for us by way of atonement and immediately before a series of chapters answering the question, How is that which Christ has achieved made effectual in the life of an individual believer? Before issues of the ordo salutis can be discussed, the Confession must first address the problem of man's will. Employing an older faculty psychology (something which Jonathan Edwards readdressed in the following century), section one insists that the will is not constrained by any external factors or by the will itself. 

What the Divines (and before them Calvin) called free will in a trivial sense, and what today is better termed free agency, this section posits that free agency is a mark of what it means to be human. We are not robots, forced by an act of creation to respond in a given way. Rather, every human being makes decision based on what he thinks is right and wrong (though this moral compass may be entirely misled). Choices made are real (voluntary not deterministic) choices and for which there is moral responsibility/culpability. This understanding of free agency (the "natural liberty" of the will) is true of Adam before and after he sinned.