• Brian O'Kelly

17 – Is Free Will an Illusion? - God’s Sovereignty vs Man’s Free Will (part 2)



1. Last week we discussed the five points of Calvinism.

1.1. Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, Perseverance of the Saints.

2. The Non-Calvinist View

2.1. Free Will or Human Ability Though no man can come to God without God's first drawing him, yet, man's free will allows him to decide whether to cooperate with the prevenient drawing of God or to resist it. The fall has affected man's nature significantly, but not to the point of rendering him incapable of choosing to receive the grace of God.


2.2. Election Conditioned upon Faith - Though God has elected to save all who are "in Christ," He has not determined which persons will actually come to be in Christ. This decision rests with the individual. God foreknows which individuals will choose to believe and to persevere in Christ, and elects to include them as His children based upon that foreknowledge.

2.3. Universal Redemption or General Atonement - Christ's death makes salvation available to every man, but in itself does not secure the salvation of any. It provides a means of reconciliation between man and God, but does not guarantee that any particular person will be in fact agree to the terms of reconciliation.

2.4. The Holy Spirit can be Resisted -The drawing of God is persuasive, but does not preclude the resistance of sinful and rebellious man, so that not all whom God would draw to salvation actually realize this salvation in experience.

2.5. Falling From Grace - Salvation is by faith alone. It is possible to cast off faith and a person, having done so, is not in a state of grace.

3. A Quick Historical Survey of Free Will doctrine

3.1. 1519-1605: Theodore Beza (Calvin’s successor in Geneva, commenting on Romans 11:2—“God hath not cast away his people whom he foreknew.”) “Nor are we on any account to listen to the Fathers, who refer this to faith foreseen.” 100-165 AD: Justin Martyr “God, wishing men and angels to follow his will, resolved to create them free to do righteousness. But if the word of God foretells that some angels and men shall certainly be punished, it did so because it foreknew that they would be unchangeably (wicked), but not because God created them so. So if they repent all who wish for it can obtain mercy from God.” (Dialogue CXLi )

3.2. 100-165 AD: Justin Martyr “We have learned from the prophets, and we hold it to be true, that punishments, chastisements, and rewards are rendered according to the merit of each man’s actions. Otherwise, if all things happen by fate, then nothing is in our own power. For if it be predestinated that one man be good and another man evil, then the first is not deserving of praise or the other to be blamed. Unless humans have the power of avoiding evil and choosing good by free choice, they are not accountable for their actions—whatever they may be.” (First Apology ch.43) [About the year 180, Florinus had affirmed that God is the author of sin, which notion was immediately attacked by Ireneaus, who published a discourse entitled: “God, not the Author of Sin.” Florinus’ doctrine reappeared in another form later in Manichaeism, and was always considered to be a dangerous heresy by the early fathers of the church.]

3.3. 130-200 AD: Irenaeus “This expression, ‘How often would I have gathered thy children together, and thou wouldst not,’ set forth the ancient law of human liberty, because God made man a free (agent) from the beginning, possessing his own soul to obey the behests of God voluntarily, and not by compulsion of God...And in man as well as in angels, He has placed the power of choice...If then it were not in our power to do or not to do these things, what reason had the apostle, and much more the Lord Himself, to give us counsel to do some things and to abstain from others?” (Against Heresies XXXVII)

3.4. 150-190 AD: Athenagoras “men...have freedom of choice as to both virtue and vice (for you would not either honor the good or punish the bad; unless vice and virtue were in their own power, and some are diligent in the matters entrusted to them, and others faithless)...” (Embassy for Christians XXIV)

3.5. 150-200 AD: Clement of Alexandria “Neither praise nor condemnation, neither rewards nor punishments, are right if the soul does not have the power of choice and avoidance, if evil is involuntary.” (Miscellanies, book 1, ch.17)

3.6. 155-225 AD: Tertullian “I find, then, that man was by God constituted free, master of his own will and power; indicating the presence of God’s image and likeness in him by nothing so well as by this constitution of his nature.” (Against Marcion, Book II ch.5)

3.7. 185-254 AD: Origen

3.7.1. “This also is clearly defined in the teaching of the church that every rational soul is possessed of free-will and volition.” (De Principiis, Preface) 4

3.7.2. “There are, indeed, innumerable passages in the Scriptures which establish with exceeding clearness the existence of freedom of will.” (De Principiis, Book 3, ch.1)

3.8. 250-300 AD: Archelaus “There can be no doubt that every individual, in using his own proper power of will, may shape his course in whatever direction he chooses.” (Disputation with Manes, secs. 32, 33)

3.9. 260-315 AD: Methodius “Those [pagans] who decide that man does not have free will, but say that he is governed by the unavoidable necessities of fate, are guilty of impiety toward God Himself, making Him out to be the cause and author of human evils.” (The Banquet of the Ten Virgins, discourse 8, chapter 16)

3.10. 312-386 AD: Cyril of Jerusalem “The soul is self-governed: and though the Devil can suggest, he has not the power to compel against the will. He pictures to thee the thought of fornication: if thou wilt, thou rejectest. For if thou wert a fornicator by necessity then for what cause did God prepare hell? If thou wert a doer of righteousness by nature and not by will, wherefore did God prepare crowns of ineffable glory? The sheep is gentle, but never was it crowned for its gentleness; since its gentle quality belongs to it not from choice but by nature.” (Lecture IV 18)

3.11. 347-407 AD: John Chrysostom “All is in God’s power, but so that our free-will is not lost...it depends therefore on us and on Him. We must first choose the good, and then He adds what belongs to Him. He does not precede our willing, that our freewill may not suffer. But when we have chosen, then He affords us much help...It is ours to choose beforehand and to will, but God’s to perfect and bring to the end.” (On Hebrews, Homily 12)

3.12. 354-430 AD: Augustine Born in Roman North Africa of a devout Christian mother (Monica), Augustine departed from his Christian roots to pursue philosophy at age 19 or 20. He embraced Manichaeism for more than 10 years, which emphasizes election and asceticism. He was converted to “Christian” Neo-Platonism—which held to a dualism of matter versus the divine principle, much like Gnosticism—in 386. Made bishop of Hippo in 396, he began writing against Manichaeism, gradually replaced his Neo-Platonism with “a more biblically radical diagnosis of man and history,” but lived and advocated a monastic life. His theology ripened in controversy: in conflicts against Manichaeism, he taught that man had free will, but seemed to deny this in later conflicts with Pelagius, who overrated the power of human nature to live perfectly apart from grace. Augustine was the true originator of the ideas later associated with Calvinism. "There is nothing in Calvin's view of predestination that was not earlier propounded by Luther and Augustine before him." (R.C. Sproul, Chosen by God, p.15)

3.13. 1517: Martin Luther (The Bondage of the Will) “This is the highest degree of faith—to believe that He is merciful, the very One who saves so few and damns so many. To believe that He is just, the One who, according to His own will makes us necessarily damnable.” (p.70) “But why should these things be difficult for we Christians to understand, so that it should be considered irreligious, curious, and vain to discuss and know them, when heathen poets, and the common people themselves, have them in their mouths in the most frequent use? How often does Virgil alone make mention of fate? ‘All things stand fixed by unchangeable law.’ Again, ‘Fixed is the day of every man.’ Again, ‘If the Fates summon you.’ And again, ‘If you will break the binding chain of Fate.’ The aim of this poet is to show that in the destruction of Troy, and in raising up the Roman empire, Fate did more than all the devoted efforts of men...From which we can see that the knowledge of predestination and of the foreknowledge of God was no less left in the world than the notion of divinity itself.” (pp.43, 44) “For if this is not known, there can be neither faith nor worship of God. Actually, to not know this is to be ignorant of God. And with this ignorance salvation—it is well known—cannot exist. For if you doubt, or disdain to know, that God foreknows and wills all things, not contingently, but necessarily and unchangeably, how can you confidently believe, trust in, and depend upon His promises?...You will regard Him as neither true nor faithful—which is unbelief, the greatest of wickedness, and a denial of the Most High God!” (p.44)

3.14. 1509-1564: John Calvin

3.15. 1545-63: Council of Trent There was a contest between the Dominicans and the Franciscans upon the subject of God’s decrees.

3.15.1. The Dominicans, with St. Thomas Aquinas, believed that God had unconditionally elected some for glory, and effectually prepared the means of their obtaining it; that their number is determined and could not be added to. The others, who are not predestinated, cannot complain since God has afforded them sufficient assistance to this purpose, though only the elect could be saved. They sought to prove this doctrine by appeal to Paul’s writings and those of Augustine.

3.15.2. The Franciscans said that this view was injurious to the attributes of God, since He would be acting with partiality, if without cause He would elect one and reject another—and unjustly, if He would damn men for His own will, rather than their own faults, and create so great a multitude of men for the purpose of condemning them.

3.15.3. Catarinus, who favored a medium between the two opinions, observed that the doctrine of Augustine was not heard of before his time, and that Augustine himself had confessed that it cannot be found in the works of any preceding writer.

3.16. 1560-1609: Jacobus Arminius Dutch reformer who, while pastoring a Reformed congregation in Amsterdam, began to question some of the tenets of Calvinism. Disputes arose and he left his pastorate to become professor of theology at the University of Leyden.

3.17. 1610 : Arminianism: the Remonstrance of 1610 Followers of the late Arminius laid out the five major points of Arminianism:

3.17.1. With reference to his salvation, each man has freedom of choice the Holy Spirit must help men

3.17.2. The decree of salvation applies to all who believe on Christ and who persevere in obedience and faith

3.17.3. Christ died for all men

3.17.4. God’s saving grace is not irresistible

3.17.5. it is possible for those who are Christians to fall from grace.

3.18. 1618 Calvinism - The Synod of Dort

3.18.1. Condemned Arminianism, which was refuted point by point.

3.18.2. Five points of Calvinism are:

3.18.2.1. Total depravity

3.18.2.2. Unconditional election

3.18.2.3. Limited atonement (or particular redemption)

3.18.2.4. Irresistible grace

3.18.2.5. Perseverance of the saints.

4. Foundational Errors

4.1. Sovereignty as defined by Calvinists

4.1.1. Westminster Confession of Faith "God, from all eternity, did by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, neither is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established..."

4.1.2. R.C. Sproul, Chosen By God "When we speak of divine sovereignty we are speaking about God's authority and about God's power...That God in some sense foreordains whatever comes to pass is a necessary result of his sovereignty... To say that God foreordains all that comes to pass is simply to say that God is sovereign over his entire creation...If God refused to permit something to happen and it happened anyway, then whatever caused it to happen would have more authority and power than God himself. If there is any part of God's creation outside of God's sovereignty, then God is simply not sovereign. If God is not sovereign, then God is not God.“

4.1.3. John Piper: Has God predetermined every tiny detail in the universe, such as dust particles in the air and all of our besetting sins? Yes. There's a great quote from Spurgeon about dust motes. You may not even know what a dust mote is, but when I get up in the morning in my room, there's a window to the side of the bed, and a beam of light will be shining through it at certain times of the year when I get it. Now when I look through the dark I see nothing. But when I look through the beam I see the dust in the room. It's flying around, and I say, "I'm breathing that stuff!?" Yes, you are. And Spurgeon says that every one of those particles is keeping its position and moving through the air by God's appointment. Now the reason I believe that is because the Bible says, "The dice are thrown in the lap, and every decision is from the Lord" (Proverbs 16:33). Proverbs 16 has a bunch of these verses in it.

4.2. Everything man does, including sin, is ordained (instigated) by God

4.2.1. “He has decreed that…all events take place by his sovereign appointment…Everything done in the world is according to his decree…so ordained by his decree.” John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion

4.2.2. “The basic principle of Calvinism is the sovereignty of God… [He] creates the very thoughts and intents of the soul.” —Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Faith

4.2.3. “God foreknows what will be because He has decreed what shall be.” —Arthur W. Pink, The Doctrine of Election and Justification

4.2.4. “God foreordains. All things.” —Arthur W. Pink, The Sovereignty of God

4.2.5. “God wills all things that come to pass.” —R. C. Sproul, Almighty over All

4.2.6. ”God has wisely and perfectly decreed whatsoever comes to pass in this universe.” —James White, Potter’s Freedom

4.2.7. “…the counsels and wills of men...move exactly in the course which [God] has destined…. Augustine everywhere teaches…that there cannot be a greater absurdity than to hold that anything is done without [God’s] ordination…No cause must be sought for but the will of God…. [Ail] events are…produced by the will of God.” —Calvin, Institutes

4.2.8. "...that it could not be but that Adam would sin is equally true, considering Adam was subordinate to the decrees of God, determining what Adam would do out of the freedom of his own will." —Christopher Ness, An Antidote Against Arminianism

4.2.9. “The first man fell because the Lord deemed it meet that he should.” —Calvin, Institutes

4.2.10. “God desired for man to fall into sin…God created sin.” —R.C. Sproul, Almighty Over All

4.2.11. God ordains sin, and man is to blame…. Sin is…foreordained by God…God ordained…every evil thought, word, and deed in all of history.” —Edwin H. Palmer, The Five Points of Calvinism

4.2.12. “if he [God] did not will it, we could not do it… Men do nothing save at the secret instigation of God….What he has previously decreed…and brings to pass by his secret direction…whatever we conceive in our minds is directed to its end by the secret inspiration of God.” —John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion

4.2.13. “Men do [only] what [God]...brings to pass.” —John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion

4.2.14. “…natural reason itself is forced to admit that the living and true God must be one who by his freedom imposes necessity on us, since obviously he would be a ridiculous God … if he could not and did not do everything, or if anything took place without him. ” —Martin Luther

5. Does man have free will?

5.1. Hard determinism of Luther and Calvin

5.1.1. “free-will’ is an utter fallacy.” Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will

5.1.2. “those who...seek for free-will in man…labour under manifold delusion.” John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion

5.1.3. “Free will is nonsense.” Charles H. Spurgeon, Free Will—A Slave

5.2. Soft Determinism – Compatibilism

5.2.1. “In addition to affirming universal causality, soft determinists also believe that we are responsible for our actions, and they agree that we must be free in some sense if this is the case. In other words, soft determinists want to affirm both complete determinism and freedom. This position is also called compatibilism because it holds that freedom and determinism, contrary to what hard determinists and libertarians claim, can be compatible.” —Jerry L. Walls and Joseph R. Dongell, Why I am not a Calvinist

5.2.2. “As a creature, the slave to sin is naturally free to do what he wants, which is to continue in sin. But he is not morally free to desire righteousness, because his sinful heart does not love what is right. Like all men, he is not free to choose what is repulsive to him, and true godliness is repulsive to him.” —Douglas Wilson, in Back to Basics: Rediscovering the Richness of the Reformed Faith

5.2.3. Genesis 50:20 “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.”

5.2.4. Acts 4:27-28 “For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done.”

5.3. God’s will is sometimes done through man’s sinful actions:

5.3.1. There is no indicator that their sinful decisions were inspired by God, rather than simply being the outworking of the sinful patterns of their lives

5.3.2. If God did indeed create the sinful decisions, these may not be universal statements about all sinners’ behavior, but special cases, mentioned because they are exceptions to the norm

5.3.3. God can justly harden the hearts of specific sinners to accomplish His will. This is only done when they have previously, freely set themselves in a pattern of sinning.

5.4. . Decrees of God in election to salvation

5.4.1. "By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man. All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestinated to life or to death," John Calvin, Institutes

5.4.2. “If what I teach is true, that those who perish are destined to death by the eternal good pleasure of God, though the reason does not appear, then they are not found but made worthy of destruction...The eternal predestination of God, by which before the fall of Adam he decreed what should take place concerning the whole human race and every individual, was fixed and determined...God chose out of the condemned race of Adam those whom he pleased and reprobated whom he willed.” John Calvin, The Eternal Predestination of God

5.4.3. “We say, then, that Scripture clearly proves this much, that God by his eternal and immutable counsel determined once for all those whom it was his pleasure one day to admit to salvation, and those whom, on the other hand, it was his pleasure to doom to destruction.” —John Calvin, Institutes

5.4.4. “Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to his eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of his will, hath chosen in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of his mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving him thereunto; and all to the praise of his glorious grace.” The Westminster Confession of Faith

5.4.5. "To understand the Reformed view of the matter, we must pay close attention to the crucial distinction between positive and negative decrees of God. Positive has to do with God's active intervention in the hearts of the elect. Negative has to do with God's passing over the non-elect. "The Reformed view teaches that God positively or actively intervenes in the lives of the elect to insure their salvation. The rest of mankind God leaves to themselves." —R.C. Sproul, Chosen By God

5.4.6. "Those therefore whom God passes by he reprobates, and that for no other cause but because he is pleased to exclude them from the inheritance which he predestines to his children." —John Calvin, Institutes

5.4.7. “How could a sovereign Deity, who has foreordained all things from all eternity, have his decrees changed by the wiles of man, who is a creature of God and is dependent upon Him for his own existence?” —Kenneth Talbot & W. Gary Crampton, Calvinism, Hyper-Calvinism & Arminianism

5.5. Questions raised by this approach:

5.5.1. If there is only One Will in the universe, how can man be held responsible?

5.5.2. Is God's will always done? If so why does He frequently complain?

5.5.3. If God sovereignly instigates sin, how is He not its author, and why does He object to it?

5.5.4. Does prayer really affect anything?

5.5.5. Why are evangelism and, especially, persuasion necessary?

5.5.6. Why do actual events not always conform to God's stated will?

5.5.7. Does this “meticulous providence” model of God's sovereignty have any biblical basis?

5.6. God's right to rule (Adonai YHWH "Sovereign Lord")

5.6.1. Gen.15:2 But Abram said, “Lord God, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?”

5.6.2. As Creator/Owner of all things

5.6.2.1. Rev.4:11 “You are worthy, O Lord, To receive glory and honor and power; For You created all things, And by Your will they [h]exist and were created.”

5.6.2.2. Rom.9:2 that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart.

5.6.2.3. Matt.20:15 Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?’

5.6.3. As King of kings and Lord of lords

5.6.3.1. Rev.19:16 And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.

5.6.3.2. Ex.9:16 But indeed for this purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.

5.6.3.3. Dan.4:17 ‘This decision is by the decree of the watchers, And the sentence by the word of the holy ones, In order that the living may know That the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, Gives it to whomever He will, And sets over it the lowest of men.’

5.6.4. As Redeemer of creation

5.6.4.1. Rev.5:9-10 And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, 10 And have made us kings and priests to our God; And we shall reign on the earth.”

5.7. God's omnipotence - El Shaddai "God Almighty"

5.7.1. Gen.17:1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am [a]Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless.

5.7.2. Rev.1:8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega, [d]the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

5.7.3. Nothing is too difficult for God

5.7.3.1. Gen.18:14 Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son.”

5.7.3.2. Jer.32:17 ‘Ah, Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. There is nothing too hard for You.

5.7.3.3. Jer.32:27 “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is there anything too hard for Me?

5.7.4. He cannot act contrary to His own nature or character

5.7.4.1. II Tim.2:13 If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself.

5.7.4.2. Tit.1:2 in hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began,

5.7.4.3. Jas.1:13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.

5.7.4.4. Gen.19:22 Hurry, escape there. For I cannot do anything until you arrive there.”

5.7.5. This also means he cannot act other than according to truth. He cannot create a contradiction, as if He were to make 2 + 2 equal 5, or make something exist and not exist simultaneously, or make man both free and a puppet, or responsible and not responsible at the same time

5.8. God's intervention

5.8.1. Eph.1:11 In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will

5.8.2. God limits His intervention according to His own policies and purposes, and does not always get precisely what He wants in men's lives

5.8.2.1. Isaiah 5:7 For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, And the men of Judah are His pleasant plant. He looked for justice, but behold, oppression; For righteousness, but behold, a cry for help.

5.8.3. With reference to specific circumstances, God's intervention is often conditioned on man's exercise of faith in prayer

5.8.3.1. Matt.13:58 Now He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief.

5.8.3.2. James 4:2 You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask.

5.8.4. With reference to man's obedience, God generally does not override man's will to rebel

5.8.4.1. Isaiah 1:2 Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth! For the Lord has spoken: “I have nourished and brought up children, And they have rebelled against Me;

5.8.5. God's ability to intervene guarantees that ultimately God's macro-purposes will be fulfilled in history

5.8.5.1. Psalm 115:3 But our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases.

5.8.5.2. Dan. 4:35 For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom is from generation to generation. 35 All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven And among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand Or say to Him, “What have You done?”

5.8.5.3. Rom.8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.