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Free Will.

The Scriptural doctrine of the freedom of the human will is closely connected with the doctrine of original sin (see Sin, Original). The doctrine of the freedom of the human will after the fall* of man must be studied from the viewpoint of original sin. Scripture emphatically declares that man, also after the fall, continues to be a responsible moral agent, who in earthly matters, to some extent, may exercise freedom of will; but it asserts that “natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, … neither can he know them” (1 Co 2:14); that man, by nature, is “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:1); that “the carnal mind is enmity against God” (Ro 8:7); and that “no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost” (1 Co 12:3). Accordingly, Scripture denies to man after the fall and before conversion* freedom of will in spiritual matters, and asserts that conversion is accomplished entirely through the Holy Ghost by the Gospel. God “hath saved us, … not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace” (2 Ti 1:9); “Turn Thou me, and I shall be turned” (Jer. 31:18).

Augustine* of Hippo taught that by the sin of Adam the whole human race, of which Adam was the root, was corrupted and subjected to death and eternal punishment. By this sin human nature is both physically and morally corrupted. By it also the freedom to do right has been lost and fallen man is free only to sin (Enchiridion, XXV–XXX, in MPL, 40:244–247; De gratia et libero arbitrio, in MPL, 44:881–912). This view of Augustine is in accord with Scripture, which declares that “it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Phil 2:13); it has been substantially adopted by the Luth. Ch., which, at the same time, rejects fatalism (FC Ep II 8, SD II 74).

Opposed to the Scriptural doctrine, Pelagianism has held that by his transgression Adam injured only himself, not his posterity; that in respect to his moral nature every man is born in precisely the same condition in which Adam was created; that there is, therefore, no original sin; that man's will is free, every man having the power to will and to do good as well as the opposite; hence it depends on himself whether he be good or evil. This extreme view of Pelagianists was modified by semi-Pelagianists and later by Arminians who denied total corruption and depravity of human nature by the fall and admitted only partial corruption.

The Belgic Confession, which states the strictly Reformed doctrine, says: “We believe that, through the disobedience of Adam, original sin is extended to all mankind; which is a corruption of the whole nature, and an hereditary disease, wherewith infants themselves are infected even in their mother's womb, and which produceth in man all sorts of sin, being in him as a root thereof; and therefore is so vile and abominable in the sight of God that it is sufficient to condemn all mankind.”

RC theologians define original sin as a state and as a cause. Thus the term designates 1. a condition of guilt, weakness, or debility found in human beings prior to their own free option for good or evil (peccatum originale originatum); 2. the origin, cause, or source of that state (peccatum originale originans). Free will is defined as the freedom of the will either to act or not to act. Those who have attained the use of reason are saved only by cooperating freely with the saving grace of God. In the fall man did not lose dona naturalia (natural gifts, e.g., freedom of the will; immortality of the soul) but dona supernataralia (supernatural gifts, e.g., perfect control over concupiscence; immortality of the body), esp. sanctifying grace.

Opposed to Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism, Arminianism,* and synergism,* the Luth. Confessions emphasize the total depravity of human nature by the fall and man's utter lack of freedom in spiritual matters since the fall.

A. Augustinus [Augustine of Hippo], The Problem of Free Choice, tr. and annotated by M. Pontifex (Westminster, Maryland, 1955); Martin Luther on the Bondage of the Will, tr. J. I. Packer and O. R. Johnston (London, 1957); P. A. Bertocci, Free Will, Responsibility, and Grace (New York, 1957); A. M. Farrer, The Freedom of the Will (New York, 1960); Discourse on Free Will [by] Erasmus [and] Luther, ed. and tr. E. F. Winter (New York, 1961).

Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

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