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. Continue Reading