For years I believed in the doctrine of free will. But honestly considering (1) Scripture, (2) Church history, and (3) personal experience forced me to abandon it.
Below are quotes from three of my heroes from Church history that urged me to reconsider what I had so hastily embraced.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892):
“I do not come into this pulpit hoping that perhaps somebody will of his own free will return to Christ. My hope lies in another quarter. I hope that my Master will lay hold of some of them and say, “You are mine, and you shall be mine. I claim you for myself.” My hope arises from the freeness of grace, and not from the freedom of the will. Free will carried many a soul to hell, but never a soul to heaven.”
“…it has already been proved beyond all controversy that free-will is nonsense. Freedom cannot belong to will any more than ponderability can belong to electricity. They are altogether different things. Free agency we may believe in, but free-will is simply ridiculous. The will is well known by all to be directed by the understanding, to be moved by motives, to be guided by other parts of the soul, and to be a secondary thing. Philosophy and religion both discard at once the very thought of free-will; and I will go as far as Martin Luther, in that strong assertion of his, where he says, “If any man doth ascribe aught of salvation, even the very least, to the free-will of man, he knoweth nothing of grace, and he hath not learnt Jesus Christ aright.”” (from the sermon “Free-Will: A Slave” preached on December 2, 1855)
Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758):
“…principles [do not] derive their goodness from actions, but that actions derive their goodness from the principles whence they proceed; and so the act of choosing that which is good is no further virtuous than it proceeds from a good principle or virtuous disposition of mind; which supposes that a virtuous disposition of mind may be before a virtuous act of choice; and that therefore it is not necessary that there should first be thought, reflection, and choice before there can be any virtuous disposition. If the choice be first, before the existence of a good disposition of heart, what signifies that choice? There can, according to our natural notions, be no virtue in a choice which proceeds from no virtuous principle but from mere self-love, ambition, or some animal appetite.” (Jonathan Edwards, Complete Works Volume 1 (Edinburgh, Banner of Truth, 1974), p. 177.)
George Whitefield (1714-1770):
“I hope we shall catch fire from each other, and that there will be a holy emulation amongst us, who shall most debase man and exalt the Lord Jesus. Nothing but the doctrines of the Reformation can do this. All others leave freewill in man and make him, in part at least, a Saviour to himself. My soul, come not thou near the secret of those who teach such things . . . I know Christ is all in all. Man is nothing: he hath a free will to go to hell, but none to go to heaven, till God worketh in him to do of His good pleasure.”
The guts of Spurgeon’s argument was that free will undermines grace because it mingles merit into the plan redemption when Scripture clearly presents salvation as by grace alone. His assertion that the two are incompatible rocked me. As did the statement that “Free will carried many a soul to hell, but never a soul to heaven.” Man is free to reject Christ. But to accept Him and adore Him requires a work of indelible, effectual, saving grace.
The guts of Edwards’ argument was that actions are governed by decisions and that decisions were governed by the disposition and inclination of each person. To paraphrase him, regeneration must precede faith. For if faith precedes regeneration, this means that unregenerate man is capable of faith apart from the Holy Spirit. And if that is the case, then the decision to believe upon the Lord is an act of the flesh. Edwards was contending that the flesh cannot produce faith. Only the Spirit can. The idea that regeneration is what gives birth to faith and obedience shattered my paradigm of free will.
The guts of Whitefield’s argument was that because man is a slave to sin, he is free only to go to hell. That is, nothing in his nature restrains him. But everything in his nature restrains him from choosing Christ. This, Whitefield argued, was the work of saving grace alone. Whitefield was notorious for magnifying the sinfulness of man and the free and saving grace of God. He elevated it to an art form.And his insistence on human depravity and the power of saving grace laid an axe to the root of my assumptions concerning free will.
Spurgeon, Edwards, and Whitefield were some of the most influential leaders in the last few hundred years of Church history. And their wholesale rejection of the doctrine of free will should be humbly and honestly weighed by our generation.