IV. What kind of liberty of will has man; or how many degrees of free will are there according to man’s four-fold state?

It is still further to be inquired, in the discussion of this subject, (and this is also necessary, in order that we may arrive at a proper knowledge of ourselves,) What, and how great, was the liberty of will which man possessed before the fall? Whether there be any, or none at all, since the fall? And if any, what is it? Whether it be restored in us; in what manner, and how far? Wherefore it is evident that the degrees of free-will may be considered, and distinguished most correctly, according to the fourfold state of man, viz: as not yet fallen into sin--as fallen--as regenerated--and as glorified; that is, what kind, and how great, was the freedom of the human will before the fall? What is this freedom since the fall, and before regeneration? What is it in those who are regenerated? And what will it be in the life to come, in a state of glorification?

The first degree of liberty is that which belonged to man before the fall. This consisted in a mind enlightened with the perfect knowledge of God, and a will yielding entire obedience to God by its own voluntary act and inclination; and yet not so confirmed in this knowledge and obedience, but that it might fall by its own free exercise, if the appearance of any good were presented for the purpose of deceiving, and effecting a fall--that is, the will of man was free to choose good and evil, or it might freely choose the good, but in such a manner that it might also choose the evil: it might continue to stand in the good, being preserved by God, and it might also incline and fall over to the evil, if forsaken of God. The former is confirmed by a consideration of the perfection of the image of God in which man was created. The latter is evident from the event itself, and from the following testimonies of Scripture: "God made man upright, but they have sought out many inventions." "God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all." (Eccl. 7:29. Rom. 11:32.) In the last passage just quoted, Paul testifies that God, with profound wisdom, did not place the first man beyond the reach of a fall; nor did he give him such a measure of grace, that he might not be seduced by the temptation of the devil, and be persuaded to sin; but he permitted him to be seduced, and to fall into sin and death, that all those who would be saved from this general ruin might be saved by his mercy alone. It is also proven by this plain argument: that if nothing can be done without the eternal and most wise counsel of God, then surely the fall of our first parents, least of all, could be excluded therefrom, inasmuch as God had fully determined, from the very beginning, what he would have done, as regards the human race--the most important part of the work of creation. <hint>Those things which the wisdom of man is accustomed to bring forward against what has here been advanced, may be found in Ursini vol. i. p. 242, &c.</hint>

The second degree of free power of choice is that which belongs to man as a fallen being, born of corrupt parents, and unregenerated. In this state the will does indeed act freely, but it is disposed and inclined only to that which is evil, and can do nothing but sin. And the reason is, because the fall was followed by a privation of the knowledge of God, and of all inclinations to obedience; and because this has been succeeded by an ignorance of, and an aversion to God, from which man cannot he delivered unless he be regenerated by the Holy Spirit. In short, there is in man, since the fall, in his unregenerate state, a proneness to choose only that which is evil. In view of this ignorance and corruption of human nature since the fall, it is said: " Every thought of man's heart is evil continually." "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, and the leopard his spots," &c. "Every man from his youth is given to evil, and their stony hearts cannot become flesh." "We were dead in trespasses and in sins; and were by nature the children of wrath." "A corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit." "We are not sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves." (Gen. 6:5. Jer. 13:23. Syr. 17: 13. Eph. 2:1, 3. Matt. 7:18. 2 Cor. 3:6.) With these explicit testimonies, gathered from the word of God, every man's experience fully harmonizes:
as may also be said to be true of the sense of conscience, which declares that we have no liberty and inclination of will to do that which is good; but in the place of this, a great proneness to do that which is evil, so long as we are not regenerated; as it is said: "Turn thou me, and I shall be turned." (Jer. 31:18.) It is, therefore, clearly evident that the love of God is in no one by nature; and hence no one, in this state, has a propensity or inclination to serve God.

Obj. 1. There is nothing easier (said Erasmus to Luther) than to restrain the hand from theft. And still further: Socrates, Aristides, and many others, performed many excellent things, and were adorned with many virtues; therefore there was in them, before regeneration, a power of choice that was free to do that which was good. Ans. This is an imperfect definition of free power of choice, and of what constitutes a good work; or of liberty to do that which is good, which is the power of rendering such obedience as is acceptable to God. This the unregenerate have not. And although they may refrain from theft, as far as the external act is concerned, yet they are guilty of it as it respects the desires and tendencies of the heart. And not only so, but this external propriety itself, of which so much account is made, is to be attributed to God, who by his providence controls the hearts even of the wicked, and restrains them from those outbreaks of sin to which they are naturally inclined. Yet it would be wrong to conclude from this that it is easy for them to commence that true internal obedience which is pleasing to God. Such obedience can only be rendered by those who have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit.

Obj. 2. The works which are prescribed and enjoined by the law are good. The heathen perform many of these works. Therefore, their works are good, although they have not been regenerated; and, as a matter of consequence, they must possess liberty to choose the good. Ans. We reply to this objection by making the following distinction: The works prescribed and enjoined by the law are good, considered in themselves; but they become evil, by an accident, when they are done by those who are not regenerated; because they are not done in the manner, nor with the design which God requires.
Obj. 3. What God desires us to do, we have the power of doing. God desires us to do that which contributes to our Well-being. Therefore, we have the ability, of ourselves, to do that which is good, and consequently do not need the grace and influence of the Holy Spirit. Ans. There is in this syllogism, an incorrect chain of reasoning, arising from the ambiguity of the word desire. In the major, it is used in its ordinary and proper sense. But in the minor, it is used improperly; for God is here said to desire, through a figure of speech, by which he is represented as being affected after the manner of men. Hence, there is a different kind of affirmation in the major from what there is in the minor. God desires in two respects. First, in respect to his commandments and invitations. Secondly, in respect to the love which he cherishes towards his creatures, and the torments of those that perish, but not in respect to the execution of his justice. Reply. He who invites others to do that which is good, and rejoice in their well-doing, declares that it is in their power to do this, and not in the power of him who invites. But God invites us to do that which is good, and approves of our conduct when we thus act. Therefore, it is in our power to do the good. Ans. We deny the minor proposition because it is not sufficient for God to invite. It is also necessary that our wills consent to do the good, which they will not do unless God incline them.

Obj. 4. If we can do nothing but sin before our regeneration, God seems to punish us unjustly. Ans. He who sins of necessity is punished unjustly, unless he has brought this necessity of sinning upon himself. We are, therefore, justly punished, because we have brought this necessity of sinning upon ourselves, in our first parents, and follow their example by doing the same things. Other objections, which are ordinarily brought forward by the advocates of free-will, may be seen in Ursini vol. i. page 245.

The third degree of free power of choice is that which belongs to a man as regenerated, but not as yet perfected and glorified. In this state the will uses its liberty, not only for doing that which is evil, as is true of man before his regeneration, but here the will does both the good and the evil in part. It does that which is good, because the holy Spirit, by his special grace, has renovated the nature of man through the Word of God--has kindled new light and knowledge in the understanding, and has awakened in the heart and will such new desires and inclinations, as are in harmony with the divine law; and because the holy Spirit effectually inclines the will to do those things which are in accordance with this knowledge, and with these desires and inclinations. It is in this way that the will recovers both the power of willing that which is acceptable to God, and the use of this power, so that it commences to obey God according to these declarations of his word: " The Lord thy God will circumcise thy heart." "A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh." "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin." (Deut. 30:5 Ex. 36:26. 2 Cor. 3:17. 1 John 3:9.) The reasons, on account of which the will in this third degree chooses and does in part both the good and the evil, are the following: 1. Because the mind and will of those who are regenerated, are not fully and perfectly renewed in this life. There are many remains of depravity which cleave to the best of men, as long as they continue in the flesh, so that the works which they perform are imperfect, and defiled with sin. "I know that in me, (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing." (Rom. 7:18.) 2. Because those who are regenerated are not always governed by the Holy Spirit; but are sometimes forsaken of God for a season, that he may thus either try, or humble them. Yet although they are thus left to themselves for a time, they do not finally perish, for God, in his own time and way, calls them to repentance. "Take not thy holy Spirit from me." "O Lord, why hast thou made us to err from thy ways, and hardened our heart from thy fear. Return, for thy servant's sake." (Ps. 51:13. Is. 63:17.) In short, after regeneration is begun in man, there is a proneness to choose partly the good, and partly the evil. There is a proneness to the good, because the mind and will being illuminated and changed, begin, in some measure, to be turned to the good, and to commence new obedience. There is a proneness to the evil, because the saints are only imperfectly renewed in this life--retain many infirmities and evil desires, on account of original sin, which still cleaves to them. Hence the good works which they perform are not perfectly good. Those things which the Anabaptists, and others of a similar character, are accustomed to bring forward against what is here said of the imperfection of the holiness and good works of the righteous, may be seen on the 253th page of the same volume of Ursinus to which we have before referred, and also in the exposition of the 114th Question of the Catechism.

The fourth degree of free power of choice, is that which belongs to man after this life, in a state of glorification; or as perfectly regenerated. In this state, the will of man will be free to choose only the good, and not the evil. This will be the highest degree, or the perfect liberty of the human will, when we shall obey God fully and forever. In this state we shall not only not sin, but we will abhor it above every thing else; yea, we shall then no longer be able to sin. In proof of this we may adduce the following reasons:

First, the perfect knowledge of God will then shine in the mind, whilst there will be the strongest and most ardent desire of the will and heart to obey God; so that there will be no room left for ignorance or doubt, or the least contempt of God. Secondly, in the life to come, the saints will never be forsaken, but will be constantly and forever ruled by the Holy Spirit, so that it will not be possible for them to deviate in the smallest respect from that which is right. Hence it is said: "They are as the angels of God in heaven." "We shall be like him." (Matt. 22:30. 1 John 3:3.) The good angels are inclined only to that which is good, because they are good; just as the bad angels, on the other hand, are inclined only to that which is evil, because they are evil. But we shall be like the good angels. Our condition will, therefore, be one of far greater excellence than that of Adam before the fall. Adam was, indeed, perfectly conformed to God; but he had the power to will both the good and the evil; and therefore, with all his gifts, he had a certain infirmity, viz: the possibility to fall from God, and to lose his gifts. He was changeably good. But we shall not be able to will any thing but the good. Just as the wicked are inclined and led to do evil only, because they are wicked; so we shall be inclined to that which is good, and love and choose it alone, because we shall be unchangeably good. We shall then be so fully established in righteousness and conformity to God, that it will not be possible for us to fall from him; yea, it will then be impossible for us to will any thing that is evil, because we shall be preserved by divine grace in that state of perfect liberty in which the will will choose the good only.

From these things which we have now said in relation to human freedom, it is manifestly a foul slander to say that we take away the liberty of the will. And although those who are renewed and glorified will not be able to will any thing but the good, after their glorification; yet their power of choice will then be free to a much greater extent than it now is; for God, also, cannot will any thing but the good, and yet he possesses perfect freedom of will. So on the other hand, we do not take away the power of choice from the ungodly, or such as are unregenerated, when we affirm that they are not able to will any thing but that which is evil; for they will and choose the evil freely--yea, most freely. Their will is inclined and carried with the greatest impetuosity, to evil only; because they continually retain in their hearts, hatred to God. Hence, all the works which they perform of an external moral character, are evil in the sight of God, as we have already shown in our remarks upon the doctrine of sin. So much concerning the free power of choice which belongs to man.