THE WILL OF MAN:

ITS SUPPOSED FREEDOM IN OBTAINING SALVATION.

Brother Shipman, of Arkansas, has asked me to give my views on the above mentioned theme. In compliance with his request I submit to him and all the readers of the Signs of the Times a brief and hurried discussion of the subject. Volumes have been written upon the nature, tendencies and capacities of the human will by the different schools of philosophy and theology, beginning in the early history of Christianity. That the will is free, and is the decisive power in morality, salvation and damnation, seems to be the favorite system of all nominal christian moralists, philosophers, and all work-mongrel, Arminian, will-worshiping churches. Free-will forms today the chief god of nineteenth century thought and theology, and still sits as of old, in the temple exalted above all that is called God, and showing itself that it is God.

The discussion of the will belongs properly to the domain of psychology, but I shall know nothing in this article but the Bible and christian experience. My motto is that where fact contradicts philosophy, to take fact and let philosophy go. Where Christ contradicts theology, take Christ and let theology go. If the will were such an important factor in man’s salvation, Christ certainly would have emphasized that fact, the apostles would have dwelt more pointedly upon it, and the whole volume of inspired truth would have been given upon entirely different principles, for entirely different purposes, and would necessarily be made up of entirely different contents.

The first condition found in the human will that disqualifies it for the important functions claimed for it that I shall notice, is its weakness, its uncertainty, its utter fallibility. The Saviour said there was a man who had two sons; and he said to them, Go work in my vineyard. One said he would go, but did not; the other said he would not to, but afterward repented and went. Why do you suppose this incident is recorded in the scriptures? To fill up space, to finish out a page? It is written for our instruction, and serves not to teach us which of the two boys did the will of the father, but gives us a practical example of the uncertainty of the will. One said he would not, but he did; the other said he would, but did not. How constantly do we find this uncertainty of will exemplified in ourselves and those around us. We say today, I will do a certain thing tomorrow; but when tomorrow comes we are out of the notion entirely, and perhaps doing the very opposite. We say we will not do a thing; but perhaps before an hour has elapsed we are fully in the will to do the very thing which we had but a short time ago averred that we would not do. Is it not true then that the will cannot be depended upon for the most trivial things of everyday life? Then how much less can it be depended upon for the incomparably weightier issues of eternity? The world is full of failures in everyday life, resulting from this feebleness of will. How many men and women fail of success in providing comfortable homes in this world from this uncertainty of the will. Then how infinitely farther short must they fall of laying up treasure in heaven through will power. How unreasonable to suppose that God has left the issues of eternity upon the feeble, fickle, uncertain, incompetent will of man. This uncertainty and incompetency of the will is not only a matter of worldly experience, but it is most constantly, powerfully and painfully present in the everyday life of the saints themselves. Has not Paul recorded concerning himself that the good which he would he did not, and the evil which he would not that he did? Is this the language of a man endowed with free-will, and preaching the doctrine of free-will? This is the common experience of all saints. If the christian cannot depend upon the strength, certainly and freedom of his will for his daily conduct, is it reasonable that the sinner who is dead, can bring himself from that state into life and light by his will power?

“The carnal mind is enmity against God.” Rom.8:7. The will is an attribute of the mind. They stand in the logical relation to each other of container and thing contained. Then, if the mind is enmity against God, the will is necessarily enmity against God. Is it reasonable to suppose that God has placed himself, his Christ, his grace and salvation, at the disposal of that which is enmity to him? If this were so, would not all they who know the sinfulness of sin and the weakness of the flesh cry out in hopeless despair, Who then can be saved? Christ called attention to the practical working out of this enmity when he said to the Jews, “Ye will not come unto me.” Arminians, in their ignorance of the Scripture and the power of God, frequently quote these very words to prove that coming to Christ is left with the will of the creature, when in fact the words prove the very opposite. It is the will that keeps them away, because it is enmity against him. This enmity shows a practical demonstration of itself in the choice of the people when Pilate offered to release a prisoner, in compliance with Jewish custom at the feast of the Passover. He put before them two celebrated personages, Christ and Barabbas; the one, the meek and lowly Lamb of God, the Saviour of sinners, the other a notorious thief, robber and murderer. When Pilate said, “Which of these men shall I release unto you,” with one accord they chose a thief and a robber, and condemned the holy and just One. They were well acquainted with the character of both these persons as men. They knew the innocence of the one and the guilt of the other; but enmity against God made the choice. Such is always the choice of the carnal mind. It seems to me that this incident, properly presented, would be enough to stop the mouth of any one proclaiming that salvation depends upon the freedom of the will in choosing Christ. Here was a fair test, a demonstrative trial, and a convincing result. When the Arminian’s favorite theory is brought to the test it will invariably result in this way – a thief chosen, Christ rejected.

Again, ignorance of God, and of right and wrong, of good and evil, is most conclusive evidence against the doctrine of free-will and salvation through its choice. A man cannot choose that of which he has no knowledge. Before a man can choose God he must know God; before he can choose Christ he must know him as Christ; because intelligence is essential to the validity of a choice. But men in nature do not know God; they are totally ignorant of Christ. A fundamental principle of Bible doctrine is that the world by wisdom knows not God. Not only is this fact asserted by the Scriptures, but it is strikingly exemplified in the history of our race. Did men know Christ when he was in the world? When he asked his disciples; “Whom do men say that I the Son of Man am, what was the answer? “Some say John the Baptist; some Elias; some Jeremias, or some of the old prophets risen from the dead.” All of them wrong. Their highest conception of him was no more than that of a risen prophet, a man who had come up out of the grave, instead of one who had come down from heaven. Every incident in his life, from the cradle to the skies, is concurring testimony that men did not know him. Even his own disciples, they of his own choice, knew him only as he would reveal himself unto them, both before and after his resurrection. He declared himself that “no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; and no man knoweth the Father, but the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him.” God and Christ are known only by and to each other. They dwell mutually in the secrecy of their own glorious, eternal and invisible personality; and no man {there is no exception to this} knows either except through their mutual revelation.

Then it is of the utmost folly to talk of men having power to choose, and their destiny depending upon the exercise of that power. But the boast of this ignorant, idolatrous, blasphemous age is that men are wiser now than ever before; and although they might have been somewhat ignorant two thousand years ago, that matters are quite different now. The man who would take this subterfuge from plain declarations of Bible truth, and the universal exemplification of the same in the conduct of men, is to be pitied for his ignorance, and his cause is to suffer in the estimation of all sensible men for lack of argument. Did not the Jews have an acknowledged advantage over all other men in respect to these things? To them the law was given, to them were committed the oracles of God, and through them as concerning the flesh Christ came. They searched the Scriptures continually, and studied them most diligently. They received the most rigid and thorough religious instruction and training; and when Christ came they in ignorance rejected, persecuted and killed him. If the Jews, who were his own kindred, and among whom he did his wonderful works, in whose streets he taught, and who had been instructed out of the law and the prophets concerning him, did not know him, how much less shall all other nations be expected to know him. If men knew him not when he was here in the flesh, and all nature witnessing and acknowledging his power, how much less shall they know him now when he has ascended into the heavens. Man’s ignorance of God, and his conduct towards the man Christ Jesus, prove that salvation is not through the choice of the human will.

The doctrine of free moral agency, as it is called, is universally based upon the idea of man’s knowledge of right and wrong, of his qualification to choose between good and evil. This doctrine necessarily gave origin to the old cunningly devised fable of the line of accountability which is founded in ignorance and superstition, and requires very little investigation of the proper kind to explode it. If our future destiny depends upon the choice of the will, it necessarily depends upon our knowledge of right and wrong; and if our destiny depends upon our knowledge of right and wrong, this knowledge must be so infallible that there can be no possibility of making a mistake. But does man possess this absolute knowledge of good and evil? If it can be shown that he does, then the doctrine of free-will may stand, so far as this argument is concerned; but if it can be shown that he does not, then the doctrine of free-will must fall with it. The first field for investigation in this matter is ourselves. Have we that knowledge? Have you that knowledge? As for myself I must frankly confess that I have never yet arrived at that place where I always know right from wrong. Perhaps in many things, in the traditional sense, I know right from wrong; but where is my absolute knowledge of good from evil? Where is yours? How often do we perplex ourselves every day over matters continually coming before us in which we are at a loss to know the right things to do? Frequently, not being able to decide by our own deliberations, we seek counsel of friends and advisors, and after all find that we have done the wrong thing at last. This is an indisputable fact in the everyday experience of every man. Every christian has found in his own experience that the commandment which he thought was unto life was unto death. Is not the whole religious world, who are engaged in teaching the way to heaven, divided among themselves as to what is the way? Did not the builders in ancient times disallow the stone that became the head of the corner? I will give one example before leaving this part of the discussion. The Apostle Paul, or more properly Saul of Tarsus, who had all possible advantages in ethical culture and religious training, after his call declared that when he was persecuting the saints, compelling them to blaspheme, delivering them to death, wasting the church of God, he went not against his own conscience, and that he truthfully thought that he was doing God’s service. Many others have lived and labored and died under the same delusive ignorance. What need we further witness that men in nature do not know good from evil? The saints themselves only knew as led by the Spirit of God. With the false idea of man’s knowledge of right and wrong must fall the favorite air-castle of free moral agency.

The whole process of salvation is directly opposed to the doctrine of free-will. The doctrine of election, which lies at the foundation of all salvation, is in direct antagonism to free-will; so much so that in order to establish the latter the former must be emphatically denied. That the purpose of God according to election might stand, it was said of Jacob and Esau, “The elder shall serve the younger.” Is not this opposed to the will of the creature? Would free-will lead the elder to serve the younger? But this is so in order that the purpose of God according to election might stand. Then it is true that free-will and God’s purpose according to election cannot stand together. Which must fall? Furthermore, if salvation were through the will of the creature, where is the necessity of the election of grace? All believers in the doctrine of free moral agency are led necessarily into a flat denial of election, and, in fact, every other principle of the doctrine of God our Saviour.

What had the will of man to do in bringing Christ into the world? Did men make a contract with God that if he would send Christ to die they would accept the sacrifice? Did Christ come into the world to do men’s wills? But he says that he came not even to do his own will, but the will of him that sent him; “and this is the will of him that sent me,” continued Christ, “that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but raise it up again at the last day.” Christ himself was not a free moral agent; he did not come upon that principle. He came not to do his own will; he came as one sent of the Father, bound by the everlasting covenant to execute the will of the eternal Jehovah.

The Saviour said, “Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Is there any harmony between this expression and the doctrine of free-will? Does not the one essentially down the other? Does not the fact that this birth is a necessity prove most conclusively that all the powers and capacity of the natural man are wholly inadequate to bring him to God? Does it not absolutely cut off every shadow of possibility of salvation through the combined powers of men, angels and devils? A christian is a child of promise; just as much a child of promise as Isaac was. “We, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.” Gal.4:28. A child of promise is a child that was to be; a child especially promised, which could not come into existence upon natural principles. Isaac was by promise. He was not born after the flesh; his birth was absolutely impossible from that source. So then the christian comes by promise, by the promise of the Father, and is born of the Spirit, because the flesh cannot produce him. If a man should preach that Isaac was born after his own will, or even through the procreative powers of his parents, men would at once reject it as false. A man would be at once apprehended as insane if he were to preach that any man is born after his own will. It is just as unreasonable to preach that men are born again after their own will, or even through means of any kind. That man who has not been born again has no more existence as a christian than the generations who are yet unborn have as citizens of this world. It is just as impossible and unreasonable for a man to come into the kingdom of God through the power of his own will, as for a man who shall be born a hundred or a thousand years hence to determine where, when and under what circumstances he will be born, or whether he will be born at all or not.

The doctrine of free-will is contradicted by every principle of salvation as taught in the Bible and exemplified in the experience of them that are saved. It is contradicted by many direct quotations of Scripture. “It is not of him that willeth.” Rom. 9:16. “Not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man.” John 1:15. Salvation is always ascribed to the will of God. There is a willingness that accompanies the experience of the saints, but it is given them of God, the fruit of his Spirit, God himself working in them both to will and to do his own good pleasure.

H. M. Curry.