Free Will: No. 1

John 6:44
What angry discussion there has been on this matter, and it is said there is still much heated disputing on it, especially in the south of England. Our desire is not to dispute, but to inquire calmly what is the truth on this subject. We meet with one great difficulty at the outset; we do not find a scripture that speaks directly on the subject of free will, at least I do not remember one instance where the words free will occur.
Have you ever thought what the words " free will " mean? Do they mean that man has power in himself, in his natural unconverted state, to choose salvation, and that he is free to choose it, or to choose sin, and choose to remain in sin? Let us take this illustration. A man has a strong inclination to go poaching at night for game. Would it do for the government to say, Very well, you are free to poach, for you are a free agent? Or a child has a propensity to steal—would a father say, Yes, you are a free agent; you are free to steal, or free to be honest? If he was free to steal, and had a propensity to steal, then he would steal. Would it not be wickedness to tell the man that liked it that he was free to poach? or the child he was free to steal because he chose it? Then it is plain a holy, righteous God could not tell men—fallen men, whose nature is evil, and have a constant tendency to do evil—that they are free to do the evil they delight in. For man to be told he was free to do evil would be real wickedness. Or put it in this way—you tell your son what you wish him to do; but he says, No, father, I am a free agent, and my free will tells me I must just do what I choose. The more we look into it, the more we see how free will may be, nay, is it not simply lawlessness? and lawlessness is sin. If I say I am free to do evil there is an end to all obedience.
If we look at the Lord Jesus we see the very opposite of this kind of free will. " Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, Ο God." (Heb. 10:99Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. (Hebrews 10:9).) Hear His agonizing prayer in Gethsemane: " Ο my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt." (Matt. 26:3939And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. (Matthew 26:39).) Was not Satan's one object in the temptation to get Christ to exercise free will as man? One moment of free will and the perfect obedience of the holy dependent second Man would have fallen like the first Adam. Remember it was that very act of Adam's free will that brought in sin and all its consequences. Not so the Lord. It was ever His delight to do His Father's will. He could say, " I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me." " For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me." (John 5:30; 6:3830I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me. (John 5:30)
38For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. (John 6:38)
.) If the Son of God should thus repudiate any free will of His own, but ever manifested entire subjection to the Father's will, what then becomes us? His blessed path was perfect submission and dependence. Yes, the only perfect One did not His own will, but the will of Him that sent Him.
But some of my readers will say, That is not our question. It is this: Have not all men a free will to choose or refuse salvation by Jesus Christ? and does not their salvation depend on their willing to choose Christ? Well, that seems clearly put; in other words, what is man's real condition in his natural unconverted state? There is one other question we had better look at before that.
Is there anything on God's part to hinder man's free choice of salvation? The word of God is quite plain and clear as to that: " For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3:1616For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16).) " And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord, shall be saved." (Acts 2:2121And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved. (Acts 2:21).) " Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed." (Rom, x. 11.) " For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." (Ver. 13.) See also 2 Cor. 5:19-2119To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. 20Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God. 21For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. (2 Corinthians 5:19‑21). What then is the will of God in this matter? " And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son and believeth on him, may have everlasting life." (John 6:4040And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day. (John 6:40).) " Who will have all men to be saved and come unto the knowledge of the truth/5 " Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all to be testified in due time." (1 Tim. 2:4-64Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. 5For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; 6Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time. (1 Timothy 2:4‑6).) " I will give unto him that is a thirst of the fountain of the water of life freely." (Rev. 21:66And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. (Revelation 21:6).) " And let him that is athirst come: and whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely."
These and many other scriptures prove that there is nothing on God's part, to hinder or prevent all men coming to Christ if they will. Let us not seek to explain away a single text. Surely there is no need to do so, if we only desire to know the truth.
Let us now return to our question, Has man in his fallen state a free will, or free choice of Christ and His work for salvation? We see there is no hindrance in God. He says, " Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely." But has man a will to take it? That is the question. The doctrine of Christ is, that man is so bad that he needs to be born again, with wholly a new nature from above. And without this new birth, he cannot even see the kingdom of God. (John 3) This involves the setting aside of the old man, or the fallen nature, and the bringing in of a new man, or new nature.
The thought and teaching of men is the very opposite of this—that man is not so bad, not so utterly lost in sin. He only needs improving and restoring, and the beginning of that restoration he calls regeneration, however it may be effected. If we look at the figure, the birth of a child, we see the folly of this theology at once. Is the babe the improvement or even the change of an old person? Nay, is not that babe wholly new, a new person, the beginning of a new man? And further, neither the conception nor the birth is by the will or choice of the babe. And nowhere is the new birth viewed as by the act or choice of the one born again, or born anew.
" But as many as received him, to them gave he power [the right] to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." (John 1:12, 1312But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: 13Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12‑13).) No words could be plainer than these, could they? The first communication of life and a new nature is not of man, but of God. So that He who is the truth, says, “And ye will not come to me that ye might have life." (John 5:4040And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life. (John 5:40).) On God's part Christ was freely presented to men; on their part, they would not have Him, they would rather spit in His holy face, and prefer a murderer. And mark, this was the last trial as to free will in religious humanity. It is the same to this day. Fallen humanity is not changed a bit.
But believing the words of Jesus as we do, we must go a little deeper still. Not only " Ye will not," but " No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day." (John 6:4444No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. (John 6:44)) This is the true condition of fallen, utterly lost man. If our salvation depends on ourselves, on our free choice in coming, then clearly we are not lost.
Shipwrecked sailors wrecked on the rocks are surely not lost if their safety depends on their own free choice to come to shore. You need not dive to the bottom after a drowning man surely, though he has gone down the third time, if his safety depends on his own free will to come out; he is not lost yet.
What then did comfort the heart of Christ in view of this awful condition of man? Hear his words: "All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out." (John 6:3737All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. (John 6:37).) This was the great sustaining fact that kept Him in perfect peace on the very night of His betrayal. Read John 17 Had He counted on man's free will, or free choice, what an eternal disappointment—for all refused. Yet in the midst of His utmost rejection, " At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, Ο Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight." (Matt. 11:2525At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. (Matthew 11:25).)
All depends on our seeing the true condition of fallen man—whether there be any good free will, free will in a good sense, whether there be sufficient good in him to choose the good; or have we seen the end of man? Whether we see it or not, God sees it, just as He saw it of old: " And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." And God said," The end of all flesh is come before me?" (Gen. 6:5-125And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. 7And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them. 8But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. 9These are the generations of Noah: Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God. 10And Noah begat three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. 11The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. 12And God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth. (Genesis 6:5‑12).) And when Noah stepped out of the ark into this present world, after the flood, we see a beautiful figure how God will deal with man through the sacrifice of Christ, in the type of Noah's sacrifice; but as for fallen man, " The imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth." (Gen, viii. 21.)
If we pass through the history of fallen man, even on to the Epistle to the Romans, we see man proved by every trial to be only utterly lost, utterly guilty, all under sin. Yes, an utter slave in sin, and needing a redemption wholly of God's providing. So that the words of God must surely be true. How can they be false?—words He spake long ago 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 showeth mercy." (Rom. 9:15, 1615For 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. 16So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy. (Romans 9:15‑16).) This is the real truth of the case.
You may say, But is it not also true, that when a sinner is converted to God, he does will? Yes, he does then will and desire to be saved, and to serve God. If it is not his own free choice as a lost sinner, how is it? This is the scriptural answer: " For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure." (Phil. 2:1313For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:13).) This, you notice, is the very explanation how those that are saved and sanctified in Christ are to work out their own salvation. It is God that works in them to will. He gives them a new will, and works in them by the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. Compare Rom. 8:22For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:2).
As I write by request for the help of evangelists, local preachers, &c, who often meet with much contention on the subject, we will notice some further scripture illustrations, difficulties, and consequences of this truth, both as to God's readiness to receive the sinner who comes, and man's inability to will to come.