Our Wills: Created and Corrupted (Owen)

The Works of John Owen, Vol. 10: The Death of Christ In Reformed theology, following Augustine and ultimately Paul/Scripture, we deny the Arminian position that all people have free will which gives them the power and innate ability to believe in Christ as they wish.  John Owen brilliantly countered this Arminian position of free will in his book, A Display of ArminianismBelow is a section of chapter 12 where he discusses the nature and power of free will.  Notice how Owen refutes the Arminian position by noting that our wills are created (therefore dependent) and corrupt (therefore in bondage to sin):

That, then, which the Arminians claim here in behalf of their free-will is, an absolute independence on God’s providence in doing any thing, and of his grace in doing that which is good,—a self-sufficiency in all its operations, a plenary indifferency of doing what we will, this or that, as being neither determined to the one nor inclined to the other by any overruling influence from heaven. So that the good acts of our wills have no dependence on God’s providence as they are acts, nor on his grace as they are good; but in both regards proceed from such a principle within us as is no way moved by any superior agent.

Now, the first of these we deny unto our wills, because they are created; and the second, because they are corrupted. Their creation hinders them from doing any thing of themselves without the assistance of God’s providence; and their corruption, from doing any thing that is good without his grace. A self-sufficiency for operation, without the effectual motion of Almighty God, the first cause of all things, we can allow neither to men nor angels, unless we intend to make them gods; and a power of doing good, equal unto that they have of doing evil, we must not grant to man by nature, unless we will deny the fall of Adam, and fancy ourselves still in paradise

John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, vol. 10 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, n.d.), 118–119.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

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2 comments on “Our Wills: Created and Corrupted (Owen)

  1. Kevin Davis says:

    “we deny the Arminian position that all people have free will which gives them the power and innate ability to believe in Christ as they wish.”

    That’s not the Arminian position. No Arminian theologian, that I am aware, has ever taught that people have “an innate ability to believe in Christ as they wish.” That would be straight-up Pelagianism. In fact, because of original sin, people do not have this ability or desire innately, as both Arminius and Wesley taught. Grace is necessary, hence, “prevenient grace.” The difference with Calvinists is that this prevenient grace does not necessarily result in salvation. It enables; it does not determine. I’m fully aware of why Calvinists disagree with this, but it’s important to at least state the opponents position accurately.

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    • Thanks, Kevin, for the comment. I guess therre are different stripes or degrees of Arminianism; it’s not always exactly the same with every writer. I’ve read Arminians who seemed to be pelagian in their theology, and others who were simply semi-pelagian.

      For example, here is an official statement from the Remonstrants in the early 17th century: ““There is, accompanying the will of man, an inseparable property, which we call liberty, from whence the will is termed a power, which, when all things pre-required as necessary to operation are fulfilled, may will any thing, or not will it.”

      Arminius: “For if a man should say, that every man in the world hath a power of believing if he will, and of attaining salvation, and that this power is settled in his nature, what argument have you to confute him?”

      Anyway, one thing I’ve found helpful is the Rejection of Errors in the Canons of Dort. In those sections they explain the Arminian positions and give grounds for rejecting them. Also, the Owen book I quoted is helpful; Owen actually says that the Arminian position, in the area of free-will, is in some ways more pelagian than semi-pelagian.

      Hope this helps!
      Blessings,
      Shane

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