Today we continue our series on Gospel Convergence; each week I will reflect on a chapter of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith. I would encourage you to pick up a copy of the confession and read along with me.
Imagine my shock and horror to find a chapter on ‘Free Will’ in a Reformed Baptist
Confession of Faith! And yet the central thrust of the five simple statements made by the Confession cannot be denied.
Ability to Choose
The Confession asserts that God has given the will of man ‘natural liberty and power of acting upon choice, that is neither forced, nor by any necessity of nature determined to do good or evil’ (pg. 57). In other words mankind has the ability to choose – we have a free will in the sense that we can choose. This is reinforced by the biblical witness. Two major characters in the Old Testament, Moses and Joshua, exhort the people of Israel to choose:
I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore, choose life, that you and your offspring may live (Dt. 30:19)
And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve (Josh. 24:15)
While some may argue with the claim that mankind was not by any necessity forced to choose good or evil, it must be remembered that God initially gave mankind free will in the Garden.
Not Incapable of Wrong Choices
‘[I]n his state of innocency’, the Confession states, man ‘had freedom and power to will and to do that which was good and well-pleasing to God, but was yet mutable so that he might fall from it’ (pg. 57). Thus we have answered the objection above – there was no prior inclination to do good or evil. There was the ability to choose either good or evil. Importantly though, mankind was not incapable of making the wrong choice!
Incapable of Gospel Choices
The Fall, this eating of the fruit, had an irreparable impact on the will of mankind. Since that first bite of the fruit we have been incapable of making gospel choices. While this is a slightly complicated and convoluted point that the Confession makes, it is significant:
Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation; so as a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able by his own strength to convert himself or prepare himself thereunto. (pg. 57)
There is now a propensity in our choice-making; our free will is tainted. As Paul argues ‘the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.’ (Rom. 8:7) We cannot seek, nor do we choose salvation – we only seek, choose and will evil.
Ability to Choose: Part II
God’s grace is then expressed in this discussion on the will of man; for in his grace, rather than removing the freedom of choice, God reinstates it. In the conversion of sinners to saints God ‘freeth [mankind] from his natural bondage under sin, and by His grace alone enables him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good’ (pg. 58). The ability to choose is granted again because God has set us free (Jn. 8:36), transferring us from the domain of darkness to the kingdom of Jesus (Col. 1:13) and thus we have the ability to choose that which is right because God is at work in us to both will and work for his good pleasure (Phil. 2:13).
We are not, however, out of the woods yet (so to speak). We still live in a broken fallen world, indwelt by sin, and it is still within us. Therefore, ‘by reason of [mankind’s] remaining corruptions, he doth not perfectly, nor only, will that which is good, but also doth will that which is evil.’ (pg. 58)
Incapable of Wrong Choices
The glory is that one day we will indeed be incapable of making wrong choices. Much like Paul, we are certainly not perfect here, but one day we will be (Phil. 3:12).
The will of man is made perfectly and immutably free to good alone in the state of glory only. (pg. 58)
O how we must long for that day!