What, then, of human freedom? To answer that question we must distinguish between “free agency” and “free will.” It is simplistic and misleading to say, without qualification, “man is free” or “man is not free.” To say that man has free agency is to say he is free to do what he wants. If he wants to reject Christ, he can. If he wants to accept Christ, he can. In brief, the human will is free to choose whatever the heart desires. However, apart from the interposition of divine grace, no one wants or wills to have Christ in his thinking or in his life.
All people freely and voluntarily and willingly reject the gospel because it is their heart’s desire to do so. A person’s freedom consists in the ability to act according to one’s desires and inclinations without being compelled to do otherwise by something or someone external to himself. So long as one’s choice is the voluntary fruit of one’s desire, the will is free. This is what I mean when I say, “Yes, all people are free moral agents.”
On the other hand, to say that a person has free will is to say that he has equal ability or power to accept or reject the gospel. It is to say that he is as able to believe as to disbelieve, and that this ability springs from his own making and is native to him notwithstanding his fallen and sinful state. If this is what you mean when you ask me, “Is man free?” my answer, or rather, the answer of the Bible, is “No.” A man’s will is the extension and invariable expression of his nature. As he is, so he wills. A man is no more free to act or to will or to choose contrary to his nature than an apple tree is free to produce acorns.
But doesn’t God give each of us the opportunity to believe? Doesn’t he confront us with the gospel and say, “Believe in order that you might have life”? Yes, he does. But mankind always, invariably, inevitably, without pause, but no less willingly and voluntarily, says No. Note well. I am not saying that when confronted with the gospel a person cannot exercise his or her will. All of us have a will and are all capable of exercising it in the making of choices. What I am saying is that when confronted with the gospel we cannot will well. We are not kept from believing against our wills. “The one who comes to Me,” declares Jesus, “I will certainly not cast out” (John 6:37b). The problem, however, as Jesus goes on to say, is that “no one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (John 6:44a; italics added).
Why is it that no man can come to Jesus unless the Father draws him? Is it because the Father prevents him from doing so? Is it because the Father or the Son or the Spirit has put an obstacle or a barrier in his way to keep him from coming when he urgently desires to do so? God forbid! Neither is it because he lacks the requisite volitional and intellectual faculties to make a positive choice. It isn’t because of some physical defect that he repudiates the gospel.
The reason no man can come is because it is not our nature to come. It is our nature, and therefore our will, to flee from Christ, not come to him. The fact is, and a sad fact at that, we do not want to come. We are delighted not to come. We willingly and freely and voluntarily choose to stay in our sin and unbelief, because we find nothing at all in Jesus that is alluring, appealing, truthful, or in any way an improvement on what we already are and have on our own. Were we ever to come to the point of wanting to come to Christ for life, we may. Indeed, Jesus says we most assuredly will (John 6:37)! But such “wanting,” such “coming,” is not of our own making. It is of God. It is of the Father who in eternity past “gave” us to the Son and now in time “draws” us to faith. Simply put, no one, of himself or herself, wants to be saved. But whoever, by God’s power, is made willing, shall be saved!
Some mistakenly think that what this means is simply that no man is able to save himself. In fact, all Christians, both Calvinists and Arminians, believe that. But surely, someone will say, if Christ should offer to save him he can at least avail himself of that promised redemption. In other words, although he cannot save himself can he not at least ask Christ to do it for him? Although he is spiritually sick because of sin can he not at least reach out and take the medicine offered him by Jesus, the Great Physician? After all, no man can effect his own salvation, but he surely is capable of preparing himself to receive the forgiveness Christ offers him. Isn’t he? The Arminian will concede that man is in a lamentable, indeed dreadfully infirm condition, but he is not dead. As long as there is a spark of spiritual life in him, as long as he can think, feel, and will, he is able to extend his hand and take the healing medicine which God through Christ offers him.
Now what’s wrong with that? What’s wrong with it is that Scripture does not portray people as merely sick or even confined to intensive care. They are spiritually dead. They are religious and moral cadavers! Yes, people are very much alive physically and mentally and emotionally. But they are dead spiritually. This is not to say that faith and repentance are unnecessary. If a man is to be saved it will be through faith, or not at all. But because he is spiritually lifeless (Eph. 2:1-2), he must first be made alive by the power of God’s grace before he is able to repent and believe. Perhaps the best way to drive home this point is with an illustration. It comes from the pen of that great British evangelist of the eighteenth century, George Whitefield:
“Come, ye dead, Christless, unconverted sinners, come and see the place where they laid the body of the deceased Lazarus; behold him laid out, bound hand and foot with grave-cloaths, locked up and stinking in a dark cave, with a great stone placed on the top of it. View him again and again; go nearer to him; be not afraid; smell him. Ah! How he stinketh. Stop there now, pause a while; and whilst thou art gazing upon the corpse of Lazarus, give me leave to tell thee with great plainness, but greater love, that this dead, bound entombed, stinking carcase, is butd a faith representation of thy poor soul in its natural state: for, whether thou believest or n ot, thy spirit which thou bearest about with thee, sepulchred in flesh and blood, is as literally dead to God, and as truly dead in trespasses and sins, as the body of Lazarus was in the cave. Was he bound hand and foot with grave-cloaths? So art thou bound hand and foot with thy corruptions: and as a stone was laid on the sepulchre, so is there a stone of unbelief upon thy stupid heart. Perhaps thou hast lain in this state, not only four days, but many years, stinking in God’s nostrils. And, what is still more effecting thou art as unable to raise thyself out of this loathsome, dead state, to a life of righteousness and true holiness, as ever Lazarus was to raise himself from the cave in which he lay so long. Thou mayest try the power of thy own boasted free-will, and the force and energy of moral persuasion and rational arguments (which, without all doubt, have their proper place in religion); but all thy efforts, exerted with never so much vigour, will prove quite fruitless and abortive, till that same Jesus, who said ‘Take away the stone’; and cried, ‘Lazarus, come forth’ also quicken you” (Quoted by John H. Gerstner in A Predestination Primer [Winona Lake, Ind.: Alpha, 1979], p. 20).
That man is by nature corrupt and morally polluted is the uniform teaching of the Old Testament Scriptures. Sin is not simply a matter of doing; it is a state of being. Moral depravity may even be spoken of as congenital or innate. Individual and specific sins of the will, such as David’s adultery with Bathsheba and complicity in the murder of Uriah, her husband, are the expression or effect of a nature corrupt from conception (Ps. 51:5-6). The texts that follow warrant this conclusion (however much we may wish it were not true). If I were to comment on each of these passages, more than likely I would only repeat what has already been said in this chapter. So I urge you to read them carefully and see if they confirm the doctrine of total depravity. They are taken from the ASV (1901).
Genesis 6:5 And Jehovah saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
Genesis 8:21 And Jehovah smelled the sweet savor; and Jehovah said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake, for that the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more everything living, as I have done.
Job 14:1 Man, that is born of a woman, Is of few days, and full of trouble.
Job 14:4 Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one.
Job 15:14 What is man, that he should be clean? And he that is born of a woman, that he should be righteous? 15 Behold, he putteth no trust in his holy ones; Yea, the heavens are not clean in his sight: 16 How much less one that is abominable and corrupt, A man that drinketh iniquity like water!
Psalm 51:5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity; And in sin did my mother conceive me.
Psalm 58:1 Do ye indeed in silence speak righteousness? Do ye judge uprightly, O ye sons of men? 2 Nay, in heart ye work wickedness; Ye weigh out the violence of your hands in the earth. 3 The wicked are estranged from the womb: They go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies. 4 Their poison is like the poison of a serpent: They are like the deaf adder that stoppeth her ear, 5 Which hearkeneth not to the voice of charmers, Charming never so wisely.
Proverbs 22:15 Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; But the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.
Jeremiah 13:23 Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.
Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly corrupt: who can know it?
The testimony of the New Testament is the same.
John 1:12 But as many as received him, to them gave he the right to become children of God, even to them that believe on his name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
John 3:6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
John 5:40 and ye will not come to me, that ye may have life.
John 6:44 No man can come to me, except the Father that sent me draw him: and I will raise him up in the last day.
Romans 3:10 as it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one; 11 There is none that understandeth, There is none that seeketh after God; 12 They have all turned aside, they are together become unprofitable; There is none that doeth good, no, not, so much as one: 13 Their throat is an open sepulchre; With their tongues they have used deceit: The poison of asps is under their lips: 14 Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: 15 Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 Destruction and misery are in their ways; 17 And the way of peace have they not known: 18 There is no fear of God before their eyes.
Romans 8:5 For they that are after the flesh mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. 6 For the mind of the flesh is death; but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace: 7 because the mind of the flesh is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be: 8 and they that are in the flesh cannot please God.
Romans 9:16 So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that hath mercy.
1 Corinthians 2:14 Now the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him; and he cannot know them, because they are spiritually judged.
Ephesians 2:1 And you did he make alive, when ye were dead through your trespasses and sins,
Ephesians 4:17 This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye no longer walk as the Gentiles also walk, in the vanity of their mind, 18 being darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardening of their heart; 19 who being past feeling gave themselves up to lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.
2 Timothy 2:25 in meekness correcting them that oppose themselves; if peradventure God may give them repentance unto the knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him unto his will.
James 1:18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
This concludes our first line of evidence for the Calvinistic doctrine of unconditional election. The point I have labored to establish is this: if total depravity and the resultant bondage of the human will are true, election must be unconditional, or else no one would ever be saved.