Calvinists, free will and a better alternative

Butterfly Heart

By Spencer D Gear

Let’s examine some well known Calvinists and their views on free will.

C. H. Spurgeon, in Sermon No. 52, “Free Will – A Slave”, wrote:

“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”. Elsewhere he preached, “Free-will doctrine—what does it? It magnifies man into God; it declares God’s purposes a nullity, since they cannot be carried out unless men are willing. It makes God’s will a waiting servant to the will of man, and the whole covenant of grace dependent upon human action” (Spurgeon on Free-Will).

Here is an article, “John Calvin on Free Will”. Calvin affirms that

“Whenever we are prompted to choose something to our advantage, whenever the will inclines to this, or conversely whenever our mind and heart shun anything that would otherwise be harmful, that is the Lord’s special grace.” (Institutes of the Christian Religion (2.4.6) “The human will does not obtain grace by freedom, but obtains freedom by grace ; …Controlled by grace, it will never perish, but if grace forsake it, it will straightway fall; …The direction of the human will toward good, and after direction its continuation in good, depend solely upon God’s will, not upon any merit in man; … and whatever it can do it is able to do only through grace” (Institutes 2.4.14).

R. C. Sproul in “The Pelagian captivity of the church”, wrote:

“Do we have a will? Yes, of course we have a will. Calvin said, if you mean by a free will a faculty of choosing by which you have the power within yourself to choose what you desire, then we all have free will. If you mean by free will the ability for fallen human beings to incline themselves and exercise that will to choose the things of God without the prior monergistic work of regeneration then, said Calvin, free will is far too grandiose a term to apply to a human being”.

Martin Luther wrote, The Bondage of the Will.

John Piper: “God’s merciful treatment of anyone is never initiated by or in any way ultimately influenced by the person’s will” (John Piper on free will).

A better alternative

I have found the best refutation of the Calvinistic view of lack of freedom of the will in choosing to believe, to be Norman Geisler’s, Chosen But Free. Geisler wrote: “The Bible sees no contradiction between God’s predetermination and human free will” (p. 133) and he defends this position biblically.

‘Arminian theology, when rightly understood, teaches that salvation is monergistic. God alone does the saving. God alone regenerates the soul that is dead in sin. God alone forgives and justifies on the merits of Christ’s blood. God alone makes us holy and righteous. In all of these ways salvation is entirely monergistic. The difference between Calvinism and Arminianism is whether or not God’s saving work is conditional or unconditional. Arminians believe that God will not save until we meet the God ordained condition of faith. Faith may be understood as synergistic only in the sense that God graciously enables us to believe, but we are the ones who must decide whether or not we will believe” (Society of Evangelical Arminians, “Is Arminian theology synergistic?”).

Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 25 September 2019.