THE distressing effect of the antagonistic doctrines of free-will and
fatalism on the character of God calls for a readjustment of our thinking along scriptural
lines. The word of God knows nothing of free-will, nor does it recognize fatalism. Some
elements of each are present. There are "free-will" or voluntary offerings.
There is the definite teaching that God is operating all in accord with His purpose. Yet
neither of these denies the other. One is the divine viewpoint; the other the human. It is
not only possible for faith to revel in God's sovereignty while recognizing human freedom,
but it is our privilege to understand how this sovereignty can be and to rest in the
knowledge of it.
The problem is a very practical one. Let us
suppose that we have learned that God is carrying out His will, and that nothing man can
do is able to defeat Him. The question then arises, What is the use of doing anything? Why
pray when everything has been prearranged? The answer is very simple. God has prepared
good works that we should walk in them. It is His will to exercise our hearts as to His
ways and to engage our affections through the veil of uncertainty and ignorance which lies
upon us. He would not have us know the details of His operations lest we repose on them
instead of throwing ourselves unreservedly on Himself and confidently confiding in His
Man's limitations and ignorance are the
foundations of his philosophy. He judges all else, even God, by the prison in which his
faculties confine him. Surface appearances press on his consciousness and keep him from
considering the actual, though imperceptible, realities of existence. Many a man has
imagined that he is carrying out his own free-will when he was, in fact, in the toils of
another, and was doing the behests of a subtler intellect than his own. An unconscious man
being carried to prison by a squadron of police is "free" so far as he is aware.
So all men, unconscious of the tide and currents which are carrying them along,
acknowledge no constraint, for their perceptions have become too calloused to perceive
|The Human Will is the
of Heredity and Enforcement
What is the human will? Wherein does its freedom consist? It is my will to
write upon this theme, yet I am conscious that it would not be my will but for the
constraint of another Will, which is not mine. It is my will to do the will of God, to
submerge my will in His. And, however contradictory it may seem, I have no freedom in
doing my own will. There is no liberty for me but in the will of the Lord. So it will be
seen that the human will is not absolute, and its freedom is relative. We shall see, as we
consider the matter further, that there is no freedom for the will apart from subjection
to God, nor is there any absolute determination except on the part of the Creator.
The human will is dual in its source. It is the
product of heredity and environment. Each of these is an indescribably complex composite
which none of us can analyze, much less control. Why is it the will of all men to sin?
Because it is a part of their inheritance. We cannot say they are free to sin, for then
some might escape. Has any man the choice of his race, his nationality or the place of his
birth? And yet what vital factors these are in every act of his life! Can we think of his
volition in a single matter which is not affected by factors over which he has not the
remotest control? I write this in the country, far from my books. It was not my will to
come, but circumstances arose which made it expedient. These circumstances were made up of
a hereditary weakness and an uncongenial environment. My will, if "free" or
uninfluenced by external environment, might have led to illness or even death.
What is really meant by freedom of will is the
correspondence between heredity and environment. Lack of friction is mistaken for liberty.
If the impulses received from our ancestors urge us into a course agreeable to our
surroundings we have the consciousness of being free to do as we please. But to imagine
that these seeds of our volition were planted by our own hands, or that they have been
conjured forth by us from void vacuity, so that our will arises without roots, and
flourishes without soil, water or air, is sheer imbecility.
When a man makes up his will he subconsciously
considers his own ego, that particular expression of the Adamic nature which successive
breeding and in-breeding has brought to the surface in his case, though much else is
latent. He couples this with contacts which he has made with the world about him,
material, soulish or spiritual. Add to this compound the psychology of the moment,
especially such forceful factors as the state of his stomach or the condition of his
finances, and, if you were wise enough, you could make up his will for him. In fact, wise
men have always acted on this principle. They do not attempt to capture the will by a
frontal attack. They know that "he who is convinced against his will is of the very
same opinion still." They execute a flank movement. They seek to change or modify one
or more of the factors which compose the will. If a child will not eat healthful food, let
it go hungry for a time. If it refuses to give up a sharp knife with which it might cut
itself, offer it a more desirable plaything. Few men ever attain maturity in such matters
as these, and all may be made to change their mind by the very factors which have formed
it in the first place.
When the Creator wound up the great clock of the
universe, He determined for all the eons exactly where each speck of star dust should be
at any given moment. When He created Adam He implanted in him all the potencies which are
present in all his progeny. He started the great wheel of human volition on the course He
had prescribed. Were it not so this world were a madhouse and worse, for there is method
even in madness. Let us forever banish the thought that the human will is the one lawless,
independent, supreme, God-defying force in the universe. Throughout the word of God man's
will is subordinated to the will of God. Temporarily it appears to oppose Him and is
contrary to His revelation, but ultimately it works His way. The case of Pharaoh shows us
that He by no means limits His operations to His revealed will. He must provide opposition
to His word in order to manifest Himself.
|Consciousness of Freedom
is the Absence of Friction
What most perplexes us is the fact that man's will is always apparently
opposed to the will of God. We do not recognize the fact that man is a mere creature, and,
as such, has not even the power to oppose God unless it is implanted in Him by the
Creator. For the purpose of His self-revelation it is God's will that His revealed will be
withstood. He has set into action two opposing forces. It is characteristic of Him to do
this. We do not apologize for it, neither does He. He kills, He makes alive. He wounds,
and He heals (Deut.32:39). He plants impulses in the human heart and surrounds men with
influences which impel them to oppose His revelation. It is imperative that God should
clash with His creatures. It is essential that their wills withstand His. But in the
ultimate analysis both of these conflicting forces can be traced back to the only Source
and Origin of all.
To imagine that God has created a multitude of
lesser deities, with wills absolute, so that they stray beyond the pale of His purpose, is
to dethrone Him and dishonor every attribute and essence which defines deity. To give them
the consciousness of self-determination is quite another thing. That His
creatures should be oblivious of the power which impels them is essential to the
exhibition of His love, for the response must be without conscious constraint. When we
seek an agreeable environment we need no urging from without. But we do need pressing into
circumstances which will prepare us for the fullest enjoyment of ideal conditions. So God
is not depending on His implanted antagonism to bring men to Himself, but to drive them
away, so that the rebound will usher them into His presence, the only environment in which
man's will can ever be permanently comfortable and unconstrained.
Lately I listened to a sermon over the radio by
one of the great preachers of England. One thought was often reiterated. He insisted that
Omnipotence itself, must knock at the door of the human will. But what sort of an
omnipotence is this? Surely if it were orthodox omnipotence it could at least break open
the door. But the omnipotence of Love would act otherwise. It might present itself before
the door with objects of desire or it might set fire to the rear of the house. There are a
million ways of entering a man's heart without using force. Give me control of all
circumstances in any country and I will guarantee to regulate its religion, pattern its
politics, change its thinking -- in fact, do almost anything not too greatly at variance
with its past.
Ieue Elohim, Who sits supreme above the realms of
time and space, is the only being in the universe unshackled by the chains of
circumstance. Our versions have well-nigh hid the truth, but the highest and most powerful
of earth's potentates gladly play the part He assigns them, though they know it not. The
book of Esther is full proof of this. A simple circumstance, such as a sleepless night,
reversed the king's plans to accord with God's. The wise man assures us that the king's
heart in the hand of Jehovah is like a tiny rill of water with which the gardener
irrigates his plants. He can run it whither he wills (Prov.21:1). Moreover, every way of a
man is straight in his own eyes, yet Jehovah regulates the hearts (Prov.21:2).
|Human Free Will is
In this connection I am reminded of the infidel who raised his hand aloft
and dared God, if there be a God, to bring it down. It was a silly thing to do, for God
wants hands raised against Him now and refuses to use force in compelling obedience. Yet
God has other ways, quite as effectual and far more impressive, though ridiculously
simple, for accomplishing His purpose. It happens that, in this case, the infidel was
bald. And it also "happened" that there was a fly buzzing about. Just as the
infidel had hurled his challenge, and stood waiting for an answer, the fly alighted on his
pate and, without a moment's consideration, down came the hand to swat the fly! God had
answered a fool according to his folly! It did not need omnipotence to answer his boast.
It needed insignificant weakness.
The whole philosophy of "free will" is
contained in this silly incident. The infidel was urged to his spectacular act by the
desire for fame. This he inherited. He was impelled by the presence of an audience. He
would not have "willed" to do this foolish thing when alone or in the solitude
of a desert island. He doubtless thought he was "the captain of his soul."
But he was only a cabin boy subject to a rope's end in the hands of Captain Forebears. The
fly appealed to both of these factors. We have all inherited a sensitive skin and he was
especially touchy where his hair should have been. This was not his "free will."
No man wills to be bald. But it was his "free will" not to be annoyed
by a fly. Then the fly was also outside his jurisdiction. Probably there would be no flies
if his "free will" extended to other realms than his own personality.
So we see how easy it is to set the human
"free will" against itself. He willed to hold up his hand, but the tickle of a
fly was far more momentous in his life than the existence of God. The factors that formed
the will to defy God were not so strong as the factors which produced the instant
decision to destroy the fly. His will was set against itself and defeated itself.
One of the most soul-satisfying and
spirit-soothing truths given to us is found in Paul's epistle to the Philippians
(2:12,13): "Be carrying your own salvation into effect with fear and trembling, for
it is God Who is operating in you to will as well as to work for the sake of His
delight." If I thought that it devolved on me to originate and empower all the acts
with which I hope to please Him, I would he utterly discouraged. While consciously I will
to do many things that delight Him, I realize that it is really the operation of the
spirit of God within cooperating with the word of God without. No independent, sovereign
will can ever be in harmony with God. The bliss of the future will not arise from
independence from, but freedom in, the divine despotism. Conscious accordance with God is
the only liberty: freedom outside of this is only an illusion.
To sum up. There is only one independent
"free" will in the universe, and that is the will of God. This will, during the
eons, is manifest in two distinct ways, through nature and revelation. By nature mankind
has been placed by God in an environment which leads it contrary to His revealed will.
Naturally mankind's heritage from Adam disposes it against His manifest pleasure. This is
God in nature working out his will in the realm of subconsciousness. In order to perfect
His purpose men must not be aware that they live and move and are in Him. They must be
oblivious of all but the fruit of His operations through their progenitors and in their
associates. They must imagine that they are independent deities, well able to match their
wits and wills with that of their Creator. This is the great democratic doctrine of
The false "free will" which men claim
arises from ignorance of God's ways and of their own limitations. Not realizing that God
is working against Himself in order to become known, they imagine that their will is
independent of His. Not being able to analyze the intricate processes which underlie their
own determinations, they delude themselves into thinking that each volition on their part
is a creative act, indeed, far more than that, for creation is not, as commonly supposed,
based on nothing. But man's will is itself a creature of circumstance and can be molded
and shaped by the great Controller of Circumstances, to suit His own pleasure.
|God is the
only Free Will
We, who know God, are no longer in the realm of nature, where, all the
factors continue to oppose God. For heredity we have God's spirit within. For environment
we have God's word without. The only function of our will is a negative one, for we find
that we do not need an independent volition. More than that, we do not want our own way.
Our cry is that of our adorable Lord, "Not My will, but Thine!" In His will we
are free. All else is slavery.
The world is full of schemes to increase the
power of the human will, and promises of vast advantage lure the ungodly to part with
their pelf in order to gain ascendancy over their fellows. They are like the farmer who
waters his weeds and cultivates his thistles. The will to win brought Europe to its
present pass. It is a lurid illusion. But there is a method of cultivating will power
infinitely greater and more mighty than any man's. There is a freedom of will far beyond
our highest aspirations. It is found in renouncing our own self-determination and resting
in the will of God. Let us earnestly acquaint ourselves with His purpose and fall in line
with His plans!
How can this be done? The method is simple. We
have God's spirit within. We have His word without. Let us make them our all. The factors
which once formed our wills may be ignored. Let us assiduously cultivate the new factors.
By His spirit, through His word, we have access to the will of God. This is now our will.
Let us acquaint ourselves with it. Let us revel in it. Let us apply it. We shall then
delight in the freedom of the great renunciation: Not my will, but Thine!