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F R E E W I L L.

MAN is often spoken of as being a “free moral agent,” but Adam was not so, even in the garden before he sinned, though an old English writer speaks of Adam’s first estate as being “happiness in his power left free to will, left to his own free will, his will though free yet mutable.” Now, was Adam’s will free? Remember that freedom of the will carries with it the idea that the will is free of all contingencies and can act independently of everything outside its own self. It is evident that Adam could do nothing but what God knew he would do, and knew it before Adam did it. Otherwise God could not be omniscient; that is, knowing all things. We dare not say this, even if we wanted to, for inspiration says, “Known unto God are all his works, from the beginning of the world.” – Acts xv. 18. Is not Adam one of God’s works? If so, God knew him, all about him, from the beginning of the world. It was therefore certain in God’s mind what would be Adam’s conduct in the garden. If this was a certainty with God, it could not be an uncertainty with Adam; Adam could not have done otherwise than he did. Yet that does not mean, nor even imply, that Adam’s will was directly coerced by the Almighty in order to compel him to sin. He needed no coercion, for the act that he did was just what he pleased to do, but because he pleased to do it does not prove that his will was free. In being pleased to sin he was guided by his own tastes and inclinations, as well as his environment (the nearness of Satan), and to the extent that he was thus influenced by principles inherent in his nature, and by the subtlety of the beguiling serpent, his will most certainly was not free. If Adam’s will, then, was not free before the fall, most assuredly it never has been since in any or all of his thousands and millions of offspring. If Milton had said Adam was left to his own will, he would not have been far wrong, but when he put the word “free” in before “will” he sidestepped the truth entirely. Possibly the prevalent idea of what most men think man to be can be best expressed in the words of Channing: “He is a free being created to act from a spring in his own breast, to form himself and to decide his own destiny.” This gives in condensed form from the pen of a learned man what Arminians as a rule think man to be. We must confess it is flattering to the dignity of man to suppose him to be the arbiter of his own destiny, much more so than to adhere to the old-fashioned Bible statement that man at his best state is altogether vanity, with heart deceitful and desperately wicked. Yet, for ourself, the die has been cast, and we cannot believe other than as the pen of inspiration has recorded it in Scripture. In the providence and plan of God human beings are wonderfully constructed. It almost passes possibility to enumerate all that really does go into the making of a man. Conception, birth, training, education, environment, all and each bring their share into the construction of every person that comes into the world, and the will of each individual is bounded and determined by all these factors that go into the making. Speaking naturally, what one wills to do is in any case determined by his heritage from his ancestry, by the system of upbringing to which he is subjected, by the surroundings and circumstances in the midst of which he is placed. How then can the will be free? There are plenty of men, and learned ones, too, who ridicule and deny the truth that man’s will is circumscribed, but though they deny it, they cannot and do not prove it false. It is often said that man has the power to influence his environment, to change his surroundings to accord more with his own ideas. To a certain extent this may be, and is, doubtless, true, but the very dislike of his surroundings causes him to set about rearranging or changing them, so that the action of the environment upon the man causes his reaction against or upon that environment. Action is always equal to reaction, and in the contrary direction. All the progress that man has made in the world is largely the record of his reaction to his environment, and the manner in which this reaction spends itself is largely determined from the temperament, mental and physical, inherited from his ancestors, as well as from the training and education given him after his arrival in the world. These two factors, parentage and education, determine greatly our ideals according to which we will desire to mould our environment. How, in all this, is the will free? If, then, in the sphere of natural things it be proven that man’s will is not free, how much less, far less, is man’s will free in reference to spiritual things. We are told that an apple falling from the tree falls to the earth in obedience to the law of gravitation, according to which all objects are attracted towards the center of the earth. Thus, though we live on a round ball, and sometimes are walking with our heads hanging down, yet we do not fall off, because this law of gravitation guarantees our sticking fast to mother earth. As the law of gravitation, then, governs the physical world, so the law of sin and the end thereof, death, govern man mentally and morally. Thus, all of man’s thoughts and imaginations, his religions and moralities, are of the earth, earthy, and tend downward to the dust in conformity with the law of sin that governs his natural being. Not one good thought can man ever have, not one right conception of himself or of God, until a stronger principle than the law of sin gets hold of him. This stronger principle is the “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.” “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” – Romans viii. 2. It is an awful thing to think and to teach that our destiny is in our own hands, and that we are free to choose either heaven or hell as our portion. Think what a fearful responsibility this places upon each of us. What a blessing to be made to know that not a word of such doctrine is true. How comforting to know that the mighty God settled and sealed our end before the beginning began. How comforting to know that what God has settled and sealed cannot be changed. “For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.” The very expression, “free moral agent,” is self-contradictory, for an agent is one who acts for another, and is guided by the wishes and will of his superior. No agent, then, can be free. The very term is ambiguous.   L.

Elder H. H. Lefferts

Signs of the Times
Volume 84, No. 2.
January 15, 1916