What does it mean to have “free will”? Just what sort of freedom are we talking about? Assuming that man actually has a “free” will, what is it free from? Do we mean freedom from sin? Freedom from laws? Freedom from God’s control? Most people who believe in a so-called free will think that man is “free,” in any given situation, to choose to sin or not. They also usually think that God earnestly desires in His heart that man always choose good, but somehow limits Himself so that man’s choice is undetermined by God. Is this what it means to have a free will? If so, can we honestly say that man’s will is free from God providential control and determining decree? Gordon H. Clark, in an essay simply entitled “Free Will” (Essays on Ethics and Politics, pp. 96-99; originally published in The Southern Presbyterian Journal, December 22, 1954.), answers this question firmly in the negative. I hope you find the following quotes edifying:
Freedom from sin, complete freedom, is attained only in heaven; but even in heaven a completely free and undetermined will cannot be found. It is equally impossible for the glorified saint to choose to sin as it was for the unregenerate to choose not to sin. As Augustine said, the condition of man in heaven is non posse peccare: not able to sin. Heaven would be a precarious place if its citizens had this sort of free will.
… Man is not a machine; his motions cannot be described by mathematical equations as the motions of the planets can. His hopes, plans, and activities are not controlled by physical conditions. He is not determined by any absolute necessity of nature.
But this does not mean that man is free from God. The [Westminster] Confession does not deny, but on the contrary explicitly affirms that God controls the will of man. To say that physics and chemistry do not explain conduct is not to rule out God’s grace. …
Unless God “governs all creatures, actions, and things ([Westminster Confession of Faith] V i), or “all his creatures and all their actions” ([Westminster] Shorter Catechism 11), he would not be actually omnipotent, nor could we be sure his prophecies would infallibly come true. An interesting though obscure case of God’s control over the will of men is found in Exodus 34:24. The men of Israel are commanded to appear before the Lord three times a year. As such an occasion would offer an excellent opportunity for an enemy attack, the Lord assures his people that their enemies will not desire to attack at those times. In II Samuel 17:14 Absalom chose the worse advice because the Lord had planned to defeat the better counsel in order to bring evil on Absalom. God also caused Rehoboam to adopt evil counsel (II Chronicles 10:15) in order to fulfil his promise to Jeroboam. Better known than these cases are the words of Paul in Philippians 2:12,13, “Work out your own salvation in fear and trembling, for it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do.”
Man has a natural liberty not acknowledged by materialistic philosophy, but Christians should never construe that liberty to the detriment of God’s omnipotence and grace (pp. 98-99).