This is my brief (very brief) reflection on Jonathan Edwards’ “Freedom of the Will.”
The Will is the ability to choose.
Freedom is that which allows us to choose what we want or prefer.
The Freedom of the Will then is the ability to choose what we want or prefer.
As Edwards notes, we always choose according to our inclinations and affections; and our choice is always determined by the strongest motive or what seems most favorable to us. “The will is always as the greatest apparent good is.” The ‘greatest good’ is that which most agrees with one’s inclination or affection; and these affections are determined by one’s understanding. Thus, our will is necessarily submissive to our own affections and inclinations, determined by our motives.
To clarify, the will cannot be free on its own. It most be governed by a preceding cause or motive. Logically, it cannot be self-determined (this is the Arminian notion); the will must be caused by something outside of itself. It is not an autonomous faculty detached from the mind; rather it is cooperative with the mind, affections, inclinations, etc. Indeed, the will is the ability to choose, but our will does not choose; we as the agents choose. Thus, even the phrase ‘Freedom of the Will’ has ambiguous and perplexing connotations.
The Arminian notion of freedom argues that morality and human responsibility cannot be upheld without an undetermined will – viz. the will must be undetermined to be free. The will, however, can be both free and determined; these are not mutually exclusive. A helpful distinction provided by Edwards is in ‘natural necessity’ vs. ‘moral necessity.’
‘Natural necessity’ exposes those innate limitations in nature. We cannot defy laws of nature, mathematics, or the like. Two added with two necessarily equals four. These limitations make things naturally impossible to be otherwise.
A ‘moral necessity,’ however, is that which is necessarily tied to one’s desires or wants. A drunkard is unable to triumph his vice. An evil man is unable to love his enemies. In this case, they are free to choose, but their will is determined and necessarily tied to their inclinations and affections.
An example of Edwards may help.
Regarding a ‘natural necessity:’ a man is sentenced to prison. After being incarcerated, the King tells the man that he is free to go if he bows to him and confesses his crime. He does so, and attempts to leave; but the jail cell door is still locked. He is unable to leave, despite his desire, due to the locked door. This prisoner had good inclinations, but was not free.
Regarding a ‘moral necessity:’ a man is sentenced to prison. After being incarcerated, the King tells the man that he is free to go if he bows to him and confesses his crime. The man, however, is exceedingly bitter towards the King; and he refuses to humble himself before him. The King unlocks the door, and tells the man he is free to go under the previously stated condition; but the man would rather rob the King his due honor and remain in the jail cell. His motivation never to obey his King determines his will. This prisoner had evil inclinations, and was free.
Pertaining to salvation, those outside of Christ do not have a natural inability to choose God; rather they have a moral inability to choose God. They do not want or desire God. Romans ch. 1 makes it clear that every man is condemned because they reject God. No one seeks after God. It is not that man is ‘physically’ or ‘naturally’ unable to choose God, it is that they are not inclined or motivated to choose God. This is what is meant by ‘Total Depravity.’ In modern terms, yes, man does indeed have a free will – i.e., the ability to choose what he wants or prefers. The calvinist has no problem with asserting man’s free will. The issue is, however, that natural man does not have the motive or preference to seek after God (cf. John 3:19; 6:63; Rom. 3:11; 8:7; 1 Cor. 2:14; Gal. 4:8-9; etc.). Being that the will is governed by the motive, the will is under a moral necessity to reject God.
Thus, it naturally intimates that God must stir in man a new affection or motive to determine the man’s will to choose grace. (Since no man ‘causes’ God to do this, the grace is unconditional – i.e., Unconditional Election). God must break through the man’s resistance, and present him grace – i.e., Irresistible Grace. Being that motives are founded on understanding, God enlightens the dead man’s mind to His truth, and consequently instills the motive to motion the man’s will to God.
The freedom of the man’s will is still intact; it is simply determined to a new motive and inclination that has been given to Him by God. As stated, the Freedom of the Will pertains to whether the will has the ability to choose what he desires or prefers; and in salvation, God’s grace presents man a new affection, preference, and desire. The man no longer considers himself to be sufficient, and delights in his dependence on God.
New affections, new delights, new desires are implanted in the man’s heart. He is now in Christ, and forevermore the Spirit will guide his affections unto that day where he is ultimately glorified with the Father – i.e. Perseverance of the Saints.