GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY AND THE HUMAN WILL
“It is GOD which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure” [Phil 2:13].
Concerning the nature and the power of fallen man’s will, the greatest confusion prevails today, and the most erroneous views are held, even by many of God’s children. The popular idea now prevailing, and which is taught from the great majority of pulpits, is that man has a “free will”, and that salvation comes to the sinner through his WILL cooperating with the Holy Spirit. To deny the “free will” of man, i.e. his power to choose that which is good, his native ability to accept Christ, is to bring one into disfavour at once, even before most of those who profess to be orthodox.
And yet Scripture emphatically says, “IT IS NOT of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy” Rom. 9:16. Which shall we believe: God, or the preachers?
But some one may reply, Did not Joshua say to Israel, “Choose you this day whom ye will serve”? Yes, he did; but why not complete his sentence? — “WHETHER the gods that your fathers served which were on the other side of the flood, OR the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell” Joshua 24:15! But why attempt to pit scripture AGAINST scripture? The Word of God never contradicts itself, and the Word expressly declares, “There is NONE THAT SEEKETH after God” Rom. 3:11. Did not Christ say to the men of his day, “Ye WILL NOT come to me, that ye might have life” John 5:40? Yes, but some DID come to him, some DID receive him. True and who were they? John 1:12,13 tells us: “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, to them that believe on his name: WHICH WERE BORN, not of blood, NOR OF THE WILL of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but OF GOD”!
But does not Scripture say, “Whosoever will may come”? It does, but does this signify that everybody has the will to come? What of those who WILL NOT come? “Whosoever will may come” no more implies that fallen man has the power (in himself) to come, than “Stretch forth thine hand” implied that the man with the withered arm had ability (in himself) to comply. In and of himself the natural man has power to reject Christ; but in and of himself he has not the power to receive Christ.
And why? Because he has a mind that is “enmity against him” Rom. 8:7; because he has a heart that hates him John 15:18. Man chooses that which is according to his nature, and therefore before he will ever choose or prefer that which is divine and spiritual, a new nature must be imparted to him; in other words, he MUST be born again!
So, does it lie within the power of the sinner’s will to yield himself up to God? Let us attempt an answer by asking several others: Can water (of itself) rise above its own level? Can a clean thing come out of an unclean? Can the will reverse the whole tendency and strain of human nature? Can that which is under the dominion of sin originate that which is pure and holy? Manifestly not!
If ever the will of a fallen and depraved creature is to move God-wards, a Divine power must be brought to bear upon it which will overcome the influences of sin that pull in a counter direction. This is only another way of saying, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me, DRAW HIM” John 6:44. In other words, God’s people must be MADE WILLING in the day of his power Psa. 110:3.
As said Mr. Darby, “If Christ came to save that which is LOST, free will has no place. Not that God prevents men from receiving Christ — far from it. But even when God uses all possible inducements, all that is capable of exerting influence in the heart of man, it only serves to show that man will have none of it, that so corrupt is his heart, and so decided his will not to submit to God (however much it may be the devil who encourages him to sin) that nothing can induce him to receive the Lord, and to give up sin. If by the words, ‘freedom of man’, they mean that no one forces him to reject the Lord, this liberty fully exists. But if it is said that, on account of the dominion of sin, of which he is the slave, and that voluntarily, he cannot escape from his condition, and make choice of the good — even while acknowledging it to be good, and approving of it — THEN HE HAS NO LIBERTY WHATEVER (capitals ours). He is not subject to the law, neither indeed can be; hence, they that are in the flesh cannot please God.”
Now in conclusion let us anticipate and dispose of the usual and inevitable objection — WHY PREACH THE GOSPEL IF MAN IS POWERLESS TO RESPOND? Why bid the sinner come to Christ if sin has so enslaved him that he has no power in himself to come? Reply: — We do not preach the Gospel BECAUSE WE believe that men are free moral agents, and therefore capable of receiving Christ, but we preach it BECAUSE WE ARE COMMANDED TO DO SO Mark 16:15; and though to them that perish it is FOOLISHNESS, yet, “unto us which are saved it is THE POWER OF GOD” 1 Cor. 1:18. “The foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor. 1:25). The sinner is dead in trespasses and sins Eph 2:1, and a dead man is utterly incapable of willing anything, hence it is that “they that are in the flesh (the unregenerate) cannot please God” Rom. 8:8.
To fleshly wisdom it appears the height of folly to preach the Gospel to those that are DEAD, and therefore BEYOND the reach of doing anything themselves. Yes, but God’s ways are different from ours. It pleases God “by the FOOLISHNESS OF PREACHING to save them that believe” 1 Cor. 1:21. Man may deem it folly to prophesy to “DEAD BONES” and to say unto them, “O, ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord” Ezek. 37:4. Ah! but then it is the word OF THE LORD, and the words he speaks “they are spirit, AND THEY ARE LIFE” John 6:63. Wise men standing by the grave of Lazarus night pronounce it an evidence of insanity when the Lord addressed a DEAD man with the words, “Lazarus, Come forth.” Ah! but he who thus spake was and is himself the Resurrection and the Life, and at HIS word even the dead live!
We go forth to preach the Gospel, then, not because we believe that sinners have within themselves the power to receive the Saviour it proclaims, but because the Gospel itself IS THE POWER OF GOD UNTO salvation to everyone that believeth, and because we know that “as many as were ordained to eternal life” Acts 13:48, SHALL believe John 6:37 10:16 — note the shall’s!) in God’s appointed time, for it is written, “Thy people SHALL be willing in the day of THY power” (Psa. 110:3)