Freedom of the Will

Jonathan Edwards says that people have a free will, the freedom to choose, but that “the mind chooses as it does because of motives.”

John Gerstner puts it this way:

“Your choices, as a rational person, are always based on various considerations or motives that are before you at the time. Those motives have a certain weight with you, and the motives for and against reading a book [for example] are weighed in the balance of your mind; the motives which outweigh all others are what you, indeed, choose to follow. You, being a rational person, will always choose what seems to you to be the right thing, the wise thing, the advisable thing to do. If you choose not to do the right thing, the advisable thing, the thing that you are inclined to do, you would, of course be insane. You would be choosing something which you didn’t choose. You would find something preferable which you didn’t prefer. But you, being a rational and sane person, choose something because it seems to you the right, proper, good, advantageous thing to do.

I can put the matter negatively. Suppose that when you are confronted by a certain choice no motive whatever enters into the choice. It would then follow, would it not, that the choice would be impossible for you and a decision would not be made? Suppose there is a donkey standing in the middle of the room. To the right of the donkey is a bunch of carrots precisely matched (in the mind of the donkey) with a bunch of carrots placed on the left. How can the donkey choose between those bunches? If one bunch of carrots is exactly the same as the other and no motives whatever for choosing one rather than the other enter into the picture, what is going to happen to the donkey? The donkey is going to starve standing between the two bunches of carrots! There is nothing to incline it one way or the other. So if he does go one way or the other, it is because for some reason (unknown to us but certainly clear in the mind of the donkey) one choice or the other is preferable. When you and I make a choice it is on that same basis. For whatever reason one thing seems good to us, and because it seems good it is the thing we choose.”

Building off of this, humans, absent divine intervention, always desire, and thus always choose, oppression. Here is how Paul puts it:

“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” – Romans 3:10–12 (ESV)

If it were not for this counsel, we would have to say that unbelievers are insane for always choosing what is bad for themselves. But Paul explains that the problem is that they are fallen, or blind, and in their fallenness/blindness are choosing “freedom from (Christ)” that seems to be good at the time even though it always leads to oppression (under Satan).

This is the same problem Christians must deal with. However, Christians have this going for us:

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. – Ezekiel 36:26-27 (ESV)

In this new heart is a desire for Him. We choose Christ because He is our heart’s desire. And beyond this we have the Holy Spirit to guide us and so occasionally our desires to align with liberty, i.e., what is actually good for us. And when we fail in this–which we will time and time again, Christ propitiates our sinfulness and we find ourselves back in liberty by no merit of our own.

Humans do have free will, but it is free will within the constraints of always choosing what we desire. Thanks be to God for the desire for Jesus Christ.

Leave a Reply