Blog 43: 2.2.4 - 2.2.7

Iain D Campbell

What is free will?

Some theologians, according to Calvin, have come too close to philosophers who credit the will with too much. There is a perennial temptation to try to make theology agree with the prevailing philosophy, and Calvin accuses some of the Church Fathers of going too far in that direction, teaching either that man's sensual appetites were corrupted but his will not, or else teaching that man has lost supernatural endowments and been left with truncated natural ones.

Definitions of free will among the church fathers have varied, but Calvin credits Augustine for at least highlighting the necessity of grace: man's will chooses what is good with the assistance of grace, but chooses evil when grace is absent. In developing this idea, some taught that man's will was free in things not pertaining to God, but in need of grace in order to choose that which pleases God.

Is this the case, however? Can man at any time choose what is good? To get round the difficulties inherent in these questions, some have suggested that God's grace prompts us to choose the good, and then co-operates with us in doing it. Calvin still sees this as giving too much latitude to man's own power of choice.

The reality is that man is a slave to sin, and as long as man's will remains under the corrupting power of sin, man chooses to do that which is contrary to the will of God. He rejects God necessarily, but does so willingly. God is not the author of man's sinful choices.