In Gordon H. Clark’s essay, “Concerning Free Will” (Essays on Ethics and Politics; Jefferson: Trinity Foundation, 1992. pp. 25-35; originally published in The Reformed Presbyterian Advocate, August-September, 1961.), Clark provides several quotes from historic Protestantism on the subject of “Free Will.” I found the following quotes especially helpful, particularly because they speak to subjects and arguments that I have encountered in my own theological discussions. Emphasis in bold is my own.
First, Martin Luther, in response to Erasmus’ quote of Deuteronomy 30:19, “I have set before thy face life and death, choose what is good.”
“What words” says the Diatribe, “can be more plain? It leaves a man the liberty of choosing.” I answer, what is more plain than that you are blind? How, I pray, does it leave the liberty of choosing? Is it by the expression “choose”? Therefore as Moses saith “choose,” does it immediately come to pass that they do choose? Then there is no need of the Spirit. … [Erasmus says] “It would be ridiculous to say to a man standing in a place where two ways meet, Thou seest two roads, go by which thou wilt; when only one was open.” This, as I [Luther] have observed before, is from the arguments of human reason, which thinks that a man is mocked by a command impossible: whereas I say that the man by this means is admonished and roused to see his own impotency. True it is that we are in a place where two ways meet, and that one of them only is open, yea rather neither of them is open. But by the law it is shown how impossible the one [way] is, that is, to good, unless God freely give us His Spirit, and how wide and easy the other [way] is, if God leave us to ourselves. … Wherefore the words of the law are spoken, not that they might assert the power of the will, but that they might illuminate the blindness of reason, that it might see that its own light is nothing and that the power of the will is nothing. … Man by the words of the law is admonished and taught what he ought to do, not what he can do; that is, that he is brought to know his sin, but not to believe that he has any strength in himself” (pp. 153-154).
Look then first at that of Jeremiah and Malachi, “If thou wilt turn, then will I turn thee;” and “turn ye unto me and I will turn unto you.” Does it then follow from “turn ye” therefore, ye are able to turn? Does it follow also from “Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart” therefore, thou art able to love with all the heart? If these arguments stand good, what do they conclude but that free will needs not the grace of God, but can do all things of its own power? (p. 162) [Clark 27-28]. [Clark takes these quotes from Luther’s Bondage of the Will, Henry Cole trans., Sovereign Grace Union ed., United States, Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1931.]
Here Luther has shown that one can only derive propositions (such as “Man possesses the liberty of choosing”) from other propositions. An imperative statement, or command, is not a proposition; it is neither true nor false, and thus truth cannot be derived from it.
Next, John Calvin. Clark writes: “No one will be surprised to learn that Calvin rejected the theory of free will. The following confirmation is not a verbatim and consecutive quotation: While largely in Calvin’s words, it is only a broken summary of part of his Institutes.
The will therefore is so bound by the slavery of sin that it cannot excite itself, much less devote itself to anything good. If a necessity of doing well does not impair the liberty of the divine will, and if the devil, who cannot but do evil, nevertheless sins voluntarily, who will assert that man sins less voluntarily because he is under a necessity of sinning? (II, iii, 5).
I deny then that sin is the less criminal because it is necessary; I also deny that it is avoidable because it is voluntary. Similarly the wills of the elect angels, though they cannot swerve from good, are still wills. Those who defend free will make an improper transition from what is voluntary to what is free. These two are not the same” (II, v, 1) [Clark 29].
Calvin has shown that if “Free Will” means being able to perform either good or evil works at any given occasion, then God, Satan, and elect angels must not have free wills. Obviously, man is not more free than God Himself! Just because an action is predetermined, does not mean it is not voluntary. Despite the caricature of Calvinism that one often hears, Calvinism does not make man into a will-less robot.
Next up to the plate is Jerome Zanchius. Clark provides the following quote from Zanchius’ Absolute Predestination (Sovereign Grace Book Club edition). Clark: “After quoting Luther, Zanchius adds:
Exactly consonant to all which, are those words of Luther’s friend and fellow-laborer, Melancthon, “All things turn out according to Divine predestination, not only the works we do outwardly, but even the thoughts we think inwardly,” adding in the same place, “There is no such thing as chance or fortune, nor is there a readier way to gain the fear of God and to put our whole trust in Him, than to be thoroughly versed in the doctrine of predestination” (pp. 36-37). [NB: Melancthon underwent a significant shift in his view over the course of his life. He repudiated Luther’s arguments in Bondage of the Will in favor of Erasmus. For more information on Melancthon’s shifting views, see “Did Melanchthon Become a Synergist?” by John Drickamer. -PTMcW]
We assert that the decrees of God are not only immutable as to himself, it being inconsistent with His nature to alter in His purposes or change His mind; but that they are immutable also with respect to the objects of those decrees, so that whatsoever God hath determined concerning every individual person and thing shall surely and infallibly be accomplished in and upon them. Hence we find that He actually showeth mercy on whom He decreed to show mercy and hardeneth whom He resolved to harden (Romans 9:18); “For His counsel shall stand, and He will do all His pleasure” (Isaiah 46:10). Consequently His eternal predestination of men and things must be immutable as Himself, and so far from being reversible, can never admit of the least variation (p. 41).
… Now the doctrine of predestination… teaches us that, if we do indeed will and desire to lay hold on Christ and salvation by Him, this will and desire are the effect of God’s secret purpose and effectual operation, for he it is who worketh in us both to will and to do of his own good pleasure, that he that glorieth should glory in the Lord. There neither is nor can be any medium between predestinating grace and salvation by human merit (pp. 117-118) [Clark 30-31].
Nothing escapes the will of God. No truth is of more comfort to me than this in times of uncertainty in my life.
Finally, we come to the Baptist minister John Gill.
Clark quotes from Gill’s The Cause of God and Truth (Sovereign Grace Book Club edition, pp. 185-198):
God is a most free agent, and liberty in him is in its utmost perfection, and yet does not lie in indifference to good and evil; he has no freedom to that which is evil; he cannot commit iniquity, he cannot lie, or deny himself; his will is determined only to that which is good; he can do no other; he is the author of all good, and of that only; and what he does, he does freely, and yet necessarily. … The human nature of Christ, or the man Christ Jesus, who, as he was born without sin, and lived without it all his days on earth, so was impeccable, could not sin. He lay under some kind of necessity, from the purpose of God… to fulfil all righteousness; and yet he did it most freely and voluntarily. … The devils and damned spirits have no inclination to nor capacity of doing that which is good, but are wholly determined to that which is evil, and yet do all they do freely and voluntarily. … In the state of glorification, the saints will be impeccable, cannot sin, can only do that which is good; … whence it follows, that the liberty of man’s will does not lie in an indifference or indetermination to good or evil; but is consistent with some kind of necessity, and a determination to one.
Here Gill is simply following and elaborating on the argument of Calvin. If “free will” necessitates being able to perform both good and evil works, then God’s will is not free, because God cannot sin.
If liberty is not consistent with necessity in any sense, then it is not consistent with the decrees of God, nor even with the foreknowledge of God. … For if there is not a necessity of things coming to pass, which are foreknown and decreed by God, then his foreknowledge is uncertain, and is but mere supposition and conjecture, and his decrees must be frustrable and precarious [Clark 32-33].
The proponents of so-called Open Theism have recognized the same problem that Gill points out here. However, instead of reconciling the Arminian inconsistency by using logic and proper definitions, resulting in an emphasis on God’s sovereignty, they have elected to simply admit that God does not know what will happen tomorrow; that His “foreknowledge is uncertain, and is but mere supposition and conjecture.” In order to preserve their precious doctrine of the “free will of man,” they have robbed God of His omniscience, omnipotence, and, arguably, His omnipresence as well.