Freedom of the Will? (Horton)

The Bible teaches that the human heart is deceitful above all things and that everyone who sins is a slave to sin (Jer. 17:9; John 8:34).  It teaches that apart from grace, a person is dead in sin (Eph. 2:1).  These texts and others like them are where Reformed theology gets the doctrines of total depravity and bondage of the will.  That is, apart from grace we are depraved in every part (extensively): heart, mind, body, and soul.  Apart from grace, it is impossible for a sinner to come to faith in Christ since he is dead in sin.  Yet every human still has a will and ability to choose to some extent. Michael Horton describes this topic well:

“Before the fall, humankind had the natural and moral ability to obey God with complete fidelity and freedom of will.  After the fall, we still have the natural but no longer the moral liberty to do so.  When it comes to our fallen condition, we all have the natural ability to think, will, feel, and do what we should.  None of our faculties have been lost.  We have all of the ‘equipment’ necessary for loving God and our neighbors.  Nevertheless, the fall has rendered us morally incapable of using these gifts in a way that could restore us to God’s favor.  I could choose to dedicate myself to becoming a marathon runner, but I cannot choose to dedicate myself to God apart from his grace.”

“Even in our rebellion, we are exercising the very faculties that God created good, yet we are employing them in a perverse way.  …The fall has not taken away our ability to will in the least, but only the moral ability to will that which is acceptable to God.  It’s not a question of whether we choose, but what we choose.  …If we are bound by sin, then it is not a natural ability that we have lost but a moral ability.  We can only choose sin and death – and we really do choose it (John 8:44) – until God liberates us from this bondage. …It is not that the will that is rendered inactive by sin, but that it is bound by sin until grace restores it in a one-sided, unilateral, and unassisted divine act.”

Michael Horton, For Calvinism, p. 45.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church
Hammond, WI

Anabaptist Profiles Part II

Product Details In August, I did a sort of “Anabaptist profile” on Conrad Grebel, who hated the early 16th century Papacy and the Reformers equally – both were antichrists to many anabaptists like Grebel.  This “profile” is a brief on Balthasar Hubmaier, living at the same time as Grebel, Munzter, John Denck, and so forth, in the early 16th century.  These selections from Balthasar Hubmaier come from his 1527 treatise, On Free Will.

Hubmaier wrote that a person has flesh, a spirit, and a soul.  He said that each of these have a distinct will.  In Adam’s fall, Adam’s flesh fell, and Eve is a figure of the fleshly fall.  However, in Adam’s fall, his spirit “remained utterly upright and intact before, during, and after the fall, for it took part, neither by counsel nor by action, yea, it did not in any way consent to or approve of the eating of the forbidden fruit by the flesh.”  In other words, the spirit did not sin when Adam fell, but the flesh did.

Not only did Adam’s flesh fall, his soul did as well, Hubmaier notes: “The soul, the third part of man, through the disobedience of Adam was so maimed in will and wounded even unto death that it can of itself not even choose good or reject evil, for it has lost the knowledge of good and evil, and nothing is left to it but to sin and to die.”

What did Christ’s work then do for the flesh, spirit, and soul?  Well, the flesh is bad, the spirit is good, and the soul stands “between the spirit and the flesh” and needs help because its natural powers cannot do the good.  The Father sent Christ and the Holy Spirit to give freedom back to the soul.  “It  [the soul] can now freely and willingly be obedient to the spirit and can will and choose the good, just as well as though it were in paradise.”  Hubmaier then cites a few medieval proverbs to show that the soul is now free to obey: God says ‘Man, help thyself, and then I will help thee.’  “God created you without your aid, but he will not save you without your aid.”  “If I will [saith the soul], I can be saved, by the grace of God.”  God “wills and draws all men unto salvation.  Yet choice is still left to man, since God wants him without pressure, unconstrained, under no compulsion.”  

 Yikes!  This is part of the theological reason why the Reformers (Luther, Calvin, etc.) worked very hard to distinguish themselves from the Anabaptists (i.e. the Belgic Confession uses the terms, “We detest the error of the Anabaptists…”).  Of course, the Anabaptists returned the “love;” in fact, in the above mentioned treatise, Hubmaier said that the teaching of the bondage of the will is “rubbish” which “they” (read: Luther[ans]) “introduced into Christendom.”  Hubmaier, in this treatise, tries to “hew them (Luther[ans]) down with the sword of the divine word” by upholding the freedom of the will.  I don’t think it worked!

The above quotes were taken from Spiritual and Anabaptist Writers ed. George H. Williams and Angel M. Mergal (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1962), 114-135.  For more info on the Reformer’s responses to the Anabaptists, check out Luther’s Concerning Rebaptism, Letter to the Christians at Strassburg in Opposition to the Fanatic Spirit, and Against the Heavenly Prophets in the Matter of Images and Sacraments just to name a few.  Also see The Formula of Concord, Epitome – XII (“Other Factions and Sects”) as well as  Calvin’s Treatise Against the Anabaptists.

shane lems

sunnyside wa