GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY AND THE HUMAN WILL
In what does the sinner’s freedom consist? This question is naturally suggested by what we have just said above. The sinner is “free” in the sense of being unforced from outside. God never forces the sinner to sin. But the sinner is not “free” to do either good or evil, because an evil heart within is ever inclining him toward sin.
Let us illustrate what we have in mind. I hold in my hand a book. I release it; what happens? It falls. In which direction? Downwards; always downwards. Why? Because, answering the law of gravity, its own weight sinks it. Suppose I desire that book to occupy a position three feet higher; then what? I must lift it; a power outside of that book must raise it. Such is the relationship which fallen man sustains toward God. While divine power upholds him, he is preserved from plunging still deeper into sin; let that power be withdrawn, and he falls — his own weight (of sin) drags him down. God does not push him down, any more than I did that book.
Let all divine restraint be removed, and every man is capable of becoming, would become, a Cain, a Pharaoh, a Judas. How then is the sinner to move heavenwards? By an act of his own will? Not so.
A POWER OUTSIDE OF HIMSELF MUST GRASP HOLD OF HIM AND LIFT HIM EVERY INCH OF THE WAY!
The sinner is free, but free in ONE DIRECTION ONLY — free to fall, free to sin. As the Word expresses it: “For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were FREE FROM righteousness” Rom. 6:20. The sinner is free to do as he pleases, always as he pleases (except as he is restrained by God), but his pleasure is to sin.
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 (italics ours). He is not subject to the law, neither indeed can be; hence, they that are in the flesh cannot please God.”
The will is not sovereign; it is a servant, because influenced and controlled by the other faculties of man’s being. The sinner is not a free agent because he is a slave of sin — this was clearly implied in our Lord’s words, “If the Son shall therefore make you free, ye shall be free indeed” John 8:36. Man is a rational being and as such responsible and accountable to God, but to affirm that he is a free moral agent is to deny that he is totally depraved — i.e., depraved in will as in everything else. Because man’s will is governed by his mind and heart, and because these have been vitiated and corrupted by sin, then it follows that if ever man is to turn or move in a God-ward direction, God himself must work in him “both to will and to do of his good pleasure” Php 2:13.
Man’s boasted freedom is in truth the “bondage of corruption”; he “serves divers lusts and pleasures.” Said a deeply taught servant of God, “Man is impotent as to his will. He has no will favourable to God. I believe in free will; but then it is a will only free to act according to nature (italics ours). A dove has no will to eat carrion; a raven no will to eat the clean food of the dove. Put the nature of the dove into the raven and it will eat the food of the dove. Satan could have no will for holiness. We speak it with reverence, God could have no will for evil. The sinner in his sinful nature could never have a will according to God. For this he must be born again” (J. Denham Smith). This is just what we have contended for throughout this chapter — THE WILL IS REGULATED BY THE NATURE.