Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles – Article X

Article X.

Of Free Will.

THE condition of man, after the fall of Adam, is such, that he cannot turn and prepare himself by his own natural strength and good works to faith, and calling upon God; wherefore we have no power to do good works, pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us, that we may have a good will, and working with us,[1] when we have that good will.[2]

De Libero Arbitrio.

EA est hominis post lapsum Adæ conditio, ut sese naturalibus suis viribus et bonis operibus, ad fidem et invocationem Dei convertere ac præparare non possit. Quare absque gratia Dei (quæ per Christum est) nos præveniente, ut velimus, et cooperante dum volumus, ad pietatis opera facienda, quæ Deo grata sunt et accepta, nihil valemus.

Section I. — History.

THE Article on Free Will naturally follows that concerning Original Sin; and much which was said on the latter subject may be applicable to the explication of the former.

The sentiments of the Apostolical Fathers on Free Will are probably nowhere very distinctly expressed. Their writings are rather practical than controversial; and hence these topics are not very likely to be discussed in them. That they fully and plainly teach the weakness of man, and the necessity of Divine grace, cannot be questioned.

The opinions of Justin Martyr are more clearly and definitely put forth in his extant works than are those of the Apostolical Fathers. In answer to objections which the Jews urged against the scheme of Christian doctrine, namely, that according to it there was an inevitable necessity that Christ should suffer, and therefore a necessity and constraint laid upon the Jews to crucify Him, Justin denies that God’s foreknowledge of wicked actions made Him the author of those actions. He puts no restraint upon men’s wills, but foretells certain evil actions, not because He causes, but simply because He foresees them.[3] In like manner, in the first Apology, which was addressed to heathens, he explains that our belief in the predictions of the Prophets does not oblige us to believe that things take place according to fate; for, “if men acted under a fatal necessity, one could not be praised nor another blamed.[4]” And in the second Apology he maintains, in opposition to the Stoics, who believed in an inevitable fate (καθεἱμαρμένην ἀνάγκην πάντα γίνεσθαι), that it is the nature of all men to have a capacity for virtue and vice; for unless there were a power of turning to either, there could be nothing praiseworthy.[5] Yet, with such a belief in the freedom of human choice, Justin fully maintained the necessity of Divine grace, and the impossibility of attaining salvation without the light and aid of God’s Spirit.[6]

In the earliest ages the Gnostic and other heretics held, to a great extent, the doctrines of material fatalism. We have already seen that some of the Gnostics considered actions as influenced by the stars. We have seen also, that Florinus taught that God was the Author of evil, and that Irenæus, who had formerly been his friend, wrote against him.[7] Against such statements Irenæus constantly maintained human freedom, and denied that the will was a mere machine acted on by good or evil principles, and itself passive under them. But the necessity of the grace of God’s Holy Spirit he as strongly expressed, when occasion required.[8]

The Marcionites maintained that the universe was governed by two independent principles, one of good, and the other of evil. This naturally led to the belief in a physical restraint on the will of the creature. Accordingly, Tertullian, in disputing against them, strenuously contends that freedom of the will was given to Adam.[9] From the same father we learn that Valentinus taught that man was created of three different kinds, — spiritual, animal, and terrestrial; the first sort as Seth, the second as Abel, the third as Cain; and that, as the distinction was from birth, it was consequently immutable. The first kind were destined to certain salvation, the last to certain perdition, the lot of the second was uncertain, depending on their greater inclination on the one hand to the spiritual, on the other to the carnal.[10]

The fathers, who were contemporary with these heretics, were naturally led, in disputing against them, to use strong language on the freedom of the will; so that it is no wonder if, after the rise of Pelagius, his followers were ready to quote some of the ancients in defence of their errors.

Origen was one of those who opposed the Marcionite and Valentinian heresies; and his peculiar system of theology specially led him to more than ordinarily strong assertions of the freedom of the will. He took up the Platonic notion of the preexistence of souls. The state of all created beings he believed to be regulated by their former actions. All souls were created free. Every rational creature was made capable of good or of evil. Angels and devils were alike created capable of holiness or of wickedness. The devil and his ministers fell by abuse of freedom; the holy angels stood by a right use of it.[11] Every reasoning being is capable of degenerating or of improvement, according as he follows or resists reason. Men have been placed in different positions in this world; but it is because of their conduct in a former existence. Jacob was beloved of God more than Esau, because in the former life he had lived more holily.[12] And, as good or evil are substantially in none but the Holy Trinity, but all holiness is in creatures only as an accident, it follows that it is in us and in our own wills to be holy, or through sloth and negligence to decline from holiness to wickedness and perdition.[13] Holiness is attained or lost, much as music or mathematics. No man becomes a mathematician or a musician but by labour and study, and if he becomes idle and negligent, he will forget what he has learnt, and cease to be skilful in his science or his art; and so no man will be good who does not practise goodness, and, if he neglects self-discipline and is idle, he will soon lapse into sin and corruption.[14] Such language assigns so much strength to man, and keeps out of sight so much the necessity of Divine grace, that it has been truly said not to have been “without reason that St. Hierome accuses him of having furnished the Pelagians with principles;” though yet in some places he speaks very favourably of grace and of the assistance of God.[15]

In later times, as we have seen already, Manes and his followers held that good or evil actions were produced by the good or the evil principle. They appear to have believed that men are acted on by these powers as an inanimate stock, which must passively submit to the impulses which move it.[16]

St. Augustine was himself originally a Manichee. In his earlier treatises he constantly directs his arguments against the Manichean doctrines, as being those errors with which he was best acquainted, and which he dreaded most.[17]

After the rise of Pelagianism, and when his efforts were chiefly directed to the overthrow of that heresy, he speaks less frequently and clearly in favour of the original freedom of the will, and brings more prominently out those predestinarian opinions which are so well known in connection with his name. It would not, however, be true to say that he materially changed his opinions on that subject; for in some of his most decidedly Anti-Pelagian writings, and whilst most strongly maintaining the sovereignty of Divine grace, he unequivocally asserts the freedom of the human will, as a gift of God to be used and accounted for.[18]

The tenets of the Pelagians on this subject are expressed in one of the charges urged against Cœlestius in the Council of Carthage, “That a man may be without sin, and keep the commandments of God if he will;”[19] or in the passage which Augustine cites from his work, “Our victory proceeds not from the help of God, but from the freedom of will.”[20] The Semi-Pelagians, though they did not deny the necessity of grace, yet taught that preventing grace was not necessary to produce the beginnings of true repentance, that every one could by natural strength turn towards God, but that no one could advance and persevere without the assistance of the Spirit of God.[21]

In the ninth century, Goteschalc, a Saxon divine, broached strong predestinarian doctrines, which, of course, more or less embraced the subject of the present Article; for, as he is said to have held that God eternally decreed some men to salvation and others to perdition, he must have held that the will was in a great degree subject to an inevitable necessity.[22] The history of this controversy, however, more properly belongs to the seventeenth Article. The disputes on the doctrines of Goteschalc divided the writers of his day. He was defended by Ratramn, monk of Corby, famous on more accounts than one, and condemned by Rubanus Maurus and Johannes Scotus Erigena.

In the twelfth century flourished Peter, surnamed Lombardus or Lombard, Archbishop of Paris, who wrote a book called Libri Sententiarum, in which he compiled extracts from the fathers on different points of faith and doctrine, from which he was afterwards known as the Magister Sententiarum, or Master of the Sentences. His work became the text-book for future disputants, the storehouse for scholastic polemics, esteemed wellnigh upon a par with Scripture itself.

The schoolmen, who followed him, and flourished chiefly in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, discussed to a great extent the questions concerning predestination and the freedom of the will. The most famous of these, as being heads of powerful and opposing parties, were Thomas Aquinas and John Duns Scotus. Thomas Aquinas was a Dominican Friar, of a philosophical spirit and great learning, and was known by the name of Doctor Universalis, or Angelicus. He was born in Italy, A. D. 1224, and died in 1274. His most famous work is his Summa Theologiæ. In philosophy he was a Realist; in Theology, a disciple of St. Augustine; and therefore opposed to that belief too prevalent among the schoolmen, that the gift of grace was dependent on the manner in which men exercised their merely natural endowments (pura naturalia). Duns Scotus, born at Dunston in Northumberland, about the period of the death of Aquinas, was a Franciscan. He attacked the system of Thomas Aquinas, and acquired the name of Doctor Subtilis. He so strongly maintained the doctrine of the freedom of the will as to approximate suspiciously to the error of Pelagius. Duns Scotus was the founder of the School called the Scotists, to which the Franciscan friars belonged. The followers of Thomas Aquinas were called Thomists, and to these belonged the Dominicans, who with the Franciscans divided between them the learning of the Christian world in the ages preceding the Reformation.

In reasoning on the subject of the human will, and the need of grace to produce holiness, the school-authors invented a mode of speaking, alluded to in our thirteenth article, by which they endeavoured to reconcile some of the apparent difficulties of the question. They observed that Cornelius, before his baptism and a knowledge of the Gospel, had put up prayers and given alms, which are spoken of in Scripture as acceptable to God.[23] They thought, therefore, that some degree of goodness was attributable to unassisted efforts on the part of man towards the attainment of holiness; and, though they did not hold that such efforts did, of their own merit, deserve grace, yet they taught that in some degree they were such as to call down the grace of God upon them, it being not indeed obligatory on the justice of God to reward such efforts by giving His grace, but it being agreeable to His nature and goodness to bestow grace on those who make such efforts. Endeavors, then, on the part of man to attain to godliness were by the schoolmen said to deserve grace de congruo, of congruity. But, when once grace was given, then it enabled the recipient to deserve at the hands of God, not only farther grace, but even in the end everlasting life. All this of course was to be considered as depending on the Atonement of Christ; but whatever was presupposed, it remarkably tended to the exalting the power of the will, and the strength of unassisted man.[24]

We now come to the period of the Reformation. The doctrine of grace de congruo gave the greatest possible offence to Luther, and called forth much of his strongest language. For example, in his treatise on the Bondage of the Will he asserted, that “in his actings towards God, in things pertaining to salvation or damnation, man has no free will, but is the captive, the subject, and the servant, either of the will of God, or of the will of Satan.”[25] Again, “If we believe that God foreknows and predestinates everything . . . . it follows that there can be no such thing as free will in man or angel, or any creature.”[26] These expressions are characteristic of the vehemence of Luther’s temper, when opposing what he considered a dangerous error, and are much stronger than the opinions subsequently expressed by him, and very different from the language of Melancthon and the confessions of the Lutheran Churches.

In the Council of Trent the Lutheran opinions on this doctrine were set forth to be discussed. Much was said on both sides of the question. The Franciscans, as being followers of Scotus, spoke much for the absolute freedom of the will, and in favour of the doctrine of grace de congruo. The Dominicans, after St. Thomas Aquinas, repudiated the idea of congruous merit, and maintained the inability of man to turn to good of his own will, since the fall of Adam. The decrees were drawn up, so as to displease either party as little as possible, but with a leaning to the Franciscan doctrines. Those were condemned who said “that since the sin of Adam free will is lost,” and that “bad as well as good works are done by the working of God.” Yet, at the same time, those were anathematized who said that “a man could be justified without grace,” “that grace is given to live well with greater facility, and to merit eternal life, as if free will could do it though with more difficulty;” and who said that “a man may believe, love, hope, or repent, without the prevention or assistance of the Holy Spirit.”[27]

In the earlier days of the Reformation, the Lutherans generally held extreme language on the slavery of the will, and Melancthon himself used expressions which he afterwards withdrew. The more matured convictions of this great writer were sober and wise; and the confession of Augsburg, whilst affirming that the will of man “hath not the power to effect the righteousness of God without the Spirit of God,”[28] yet declares that “the cause of sin is the will of wicked beings, namely, the devil and ungodly men, which, when not aided by God, turns itself from God, as it is written, When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of himself.”[29]

The Calvinistic reformers do not hesitate to use the most extreme expressions on the inability of man to do anything but evil. “The mind of man,” says Calvin, “is so wholly alienated from God, that it can conceive, desire, and effect nothing but what is impious, perverted, foul, impure, and flagitious; the heart of sin is so steeped in venom, that it can breathe forth nothing but fetid corruption.”[30]

The followers of Calvin have, for the most part, used language similar to their leader. Whether Calvin allowed to Adam free will in Paradise, or believed that even his fall was predestinated, has been matter of dispute. Of the Calvinistic divines, those called Supralapsarians held, as has been mentioned before, that God foreordained that Adam should sin, and therefore denied to him free will even in a state of innocence. The Sublapsarians held that he fell of his own will, and not by constraint or through the ordination of God.

Among the bodies of Christians who embraced the Calvinistic doctrines and discipline, some of the most considerable were the Churches of Holland and Belgium. The Belgic Confession, put forth in the year 1567, contains explicit declarations that all things in the world must happen according to the absolute decree and ordination of God, though God was not to be called the author of sin, nor to be blamed for its existence.[31] Several divines of the Belgic Church had demurred at these doctrines; and at the end of the sixteenth and the beginning of the seventeenth century, Jacob Van Harmin, or Arminius, a pastor of Amsterdam, broached the sentiments generally known by the name of Arminianism. He dying in 1609, and his followers being persecuted by the dominant party, they addressed, in 1610, a Remonstrance to the states of Holland, whence they were called Remonstrants. Their sentiments on the subject of free will may be gathered from the third and fourth of the five articles, to which the Arminian doctrines were reduced.

The third article says that “man cannot attain to saving faith of his own free will, in regard that, living in an estate of sin and defection from God, he is not able of himself to think, will, or do anything which is really good.” The fourth article runs thus, “The grace of God is the beginning, promotion, and accomplishment of everything that is good in us; insomuch that the regenerate man can neither think, will, nor do anything that is good, nor resist any sinful temptations without this grace preventing, cooperating, and assisting; and consequently, all good works which any man can attain to, are to be attributed to the grace of God in Christ. But, as for the manner of the cooperation of this grace, it is not irresistible; for it is said of many in Scripture, that they did resist the Holy Ghost, as in Acts vii. and many other places.”[32]

The disputes between the Remonstrants and their opponents led to the calling of a Synod at Dort, or Dordrecht, at which deputies were present from most of the Protestant Churches of Europe. At this the Arminians were excommunicated, and the doctrines of the Swiss and Belgic reformed Churches declared to be decidedly Calvinistic, and intolerant of the opposite opinions.[33] Both election and reprobation are declared to be of God alone;[34] but at the same time, it is affirmed that God is not to be considered as the author of sin;[35] nor is it to be said that He works on men as logs or stocks, but rather by giving life and energy to their wills.[36] The decrees of the Synod are indeed generally esteemed decidedly supralapsarian, and were unsatisfactory to the English divines who were present during some of their discussions;[37] but their language seems less exaggerated than some who were opposed to them have been inclined to represent it.[38]

The Church of Rome, after the Council of Trent, was not exempt from the same controversies which divided the Protestants on grace and free will. Molina, a Jesuit, professor at Ebora, in Portugal, in 1588, published a book entitled Liberi arbitrii concordia cum Gratiæ donis, Divina Præscientia, Prædestinatione, et Reprobatione. His theory was somewhat similar to that of the Arminians, who taught that grace was given, according as God foresees that man would embrace and make good use of it. The Dominicans were much offended at this work, and accused the Jesuits of reviving Pelagianism. This led to a long and violent contention between the two orders, which caused Clement VIII. to appoint a sort of Council called the Congregation de Auxiliis.[39] The death of Clement VIII., before a settlement of these disputes, did not prevent their continuance under his successor, Paul V. And though Paul did not publicly declare for either side of the question, it is probable that he urged both parties to moderation, being deterred from pronouncing against the Jesuits by the patronage extended to them by the court of France, and from deciding against the Dominicans by the protection of the court of Spain.[40] The controversy, hushed for a time, broke out again in the year 1640, in consequence of the writings of Jansenius, Bishop of Ypres, who revived the doctrines of Augustine, in his book entitled Augustinus. His followers were called Jansenists, and were strongly opposed by the Jesuits; the former maintaining the sentiments held by Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and the Dominicans, the latter holding those of Duns Scotus and the Franciscans. The book of Jansenius was first condemned as a breach of the concord which had been enjoined in the Church, but was afterwards more distinctly prohibited by a solemn bull of Pope Urban VIII., A. D. 1642. The Jansenists however continued to prosper, numbering many able and pious men in their ranks, and appealing to miracles in support of their opinions. But ultimately they were condemned and persecuted by the Bishops of Rome, and the dominant faction of the Church.[41]

Before concluding this sketch of the different controversies in other countries, we must mention the Socinian opinions on free will; which, of course, correspond with their views of original sin; as they appear to consider that man’s will is so far free and strong as to need only external, and not internal help towards his sanctification.[42]

After the Reformation, or during the establishment of it in England, the first thing which particularly claims our attention is the Article of Free Will in the Necessary Doctrine, set forth by King Henry VIII. and signed by Convocation, A. D. 1543. In this it is said that “man has free will now after the fall of Adam;” and free will is defined, as “a power of reason and will by which good is chosen by the assistance of grace, or evil is chosen without the assistance of the same.”[43]

The reformers in the reign of Edward VI. appear to have followed closely upon the steps of the Lutherans (Melancthon and the Confession of Augsburg), in the Articles which concern grace and free will.[44] The Article on free will, in the forty-two Articles of 1552, was immediately succeeded by an Article on grace, which was worded as follows: —


“The grace of Christ, or the Holy Ghost by Him given, doth take away the stony heart and giveth an heart of flesh. And although those who have no will to good things, He maketh them will, and those that would evil things, He maketh them not to will; yet nevertheless he enforceth not the will. And therefore no man, when he sinneth, can excuse himself as not worthy to be blamed or condemned, by alleging that he sinned unwillingly or by compulsion.”

During the Marian persecution, the English Divines who fled to Frankfort and other places on the Continent, by being thrown into contact with foreign reformers, were drawn into the controversies which agitated them. Many came back with strong prejudices in favour of the Calvinists, while others were strongly disposed to maintain Lutheran views. There were therefore three distinct parties in the Church in the early part of the reign of Elizabeth. Some were for the restoration of popery; others inclined to Lutheran views of grace and of the Sacraments; and a third party had imbibed Calvinistic sentiments of predestination and church discipline, and Zuinglian sentiments on sacramental grace. The last were the forerunners of the Puritans, who soon became non-conformists, and finally dissenters. They acquired the name of Gospellers, and called their opponents Freewillers. Archbishop Parker and the leading men of the day wisely strove to heal the divisions, and softened down the language of our formularies so as to include as many as possible within the pale of the National Church; and among other measures of conciliation the Article on Grace was omitted, to satisfy the Calvinistic section of the Church.[45]

The controversies, however, between the high Church and the Puritan divines, both on points of doctrine and of discipline, continued to divide the Church. Whitgift, Archbishop of Canterbury, in doctrine agreed with Calvin, but in discipline was a high Episcopalian. During his primacy were drawn up the famous Lambeth Articles, which he would gladly have imposed on the Church, but which never received the authority of the queen, the parliament, or the convocation. The first of these Articles says, that “God hath from eternity predestinated some men to life, others He has reprobated to death;” and the ninth asserts, that “it is not in the will or power of every one to be saved.”[46]

In the conference held at Hampton Court in the reign of King James I. A. D. 1603, an effort was made on the part of the Puritan divines to obtain an alteration in some of the XXXIX. Articles, and to have them made more conformable to Calvinistic language; but no alteration was effected, owing to the opposition of the King and of the Bishops to the arguments of the Puritans.[47]

The Articles remain therefore as they were put forth in 1562, and afterwards in 1571. And those on the subject of grace, free will, and other similar subjects, are the same as those drawn up in 1552, by Cranmer and his fellows, with the exception of the omission of the Article on Grace which was then the tenth Article, and the prefixing of the first part of the present tenth (originally the ninth Article) down to the word “wherefore.”

There have been, ever since the reign of Elizabeth, two parties in the English Church, one holding the doctrines of Calvin, and the other opposing those doctrines, and each party has considered the Articles to speak their own language. It is however an undoubted truth that the Articles were drawn up before Calvin’s works had become extensively known, or had become in any degree popular in this country. It is probable that they speak the language neither of Calvin, nor of Arminius; and between the extreme opinions, which had prevailed among the Schoolmen and others, they held a middle course, carefully avoiding the dogma of congruous merit, maintaining jealously the absolute necessity of preventing grace to enable us to will or to do according to the commandments of God, but not minutely entering into the questions concerning the freedom of man before the fall, or the degree of free agency left to him since the fall.

Section II. — Scriptural Proof.

THE ninth Article having asserted that man by the fall is “very far gone from original righteousness,” there arises at once a probability that he is weak and helpless towards good. In reasoning therefore on that Article, it was natural in some degree to anticipate some of the conclusions of this.

Yet still, unless it be clearly conceded that by the fall man became totally corrupt, with no shadow of the image of God in which he was created, and with a mind nearly approaching, if not actually similar, to the mind of devils; it would be possible that such a degree of strength might remain to him that he might make some independent efforts towards holiness, and in some degree prepare himself for the reception of grace. As therefore the ninth Article does not define the exact amount of man’s defection from original righteousness, it was quite necessary to state the doctrine of his utter helplessness in this.

The subject, as it is stated in the Article, seems to divide itself into the two following heads.

I. Since the fall, man has no power by his own natural strength to turn himself to faith and godliness, or to do good works acceptable to God. But the grace of God is absolutely necessary to enable him to do this.

II. The grace of God acts in two ways.

1. First, it is preventing grace, giving a good will.

2. Afterwards, it is coöperating grace, working in and with us, when we have that good will.

I. First, then, since the fall, man has no power by his own natural strength to turn himself to faith and holiness, or to do good works acceptable to God. But the grace of God is absolutely necessary to enable him to do this.

Here the point to be proved is simply this. Whatever degree of defection is implied in the fall, whatever natural amiability any individuals of the human race may possess, no one, by mere natural strength, and without internal help from God, can believe or do what is, in a religious point of view, pleasing or acceptable to God.

1. In the sixth chapter of St. John our Lord says, “No man can come unto Me, except the Father which hath sent Me draw him” (ver. 44); and again, “Therefore said I unto you, no man can come unto Me, except it were given him of My Father” (ver. 65).

Now here the proposition is quite general. All mankind are included in the sentence, “No man can come” to Christ, except it be given him of God, except God the Father draw him. This is a plain statement of natural weakness, and of the need of preventing grace. It shows that by nature man is apart from Christ, and that only the gift of God and the drawing of God can bring him to Christ.

To this argument the Pelagians answer, that no doubt it is necessary that God should draw us, if we are to come to Him; but the way in which He draws us is not by internal assistance and the motions of His Spirit in our hearts, but externally, by the calls of His word, the warnings of His Providence, the ordinances of His Church. Thus, therefore, say they, He may be said to draw us, and thus it is given us of Him to come to Christ. But we may reply to this objection, that such an interpretation is inconsistent with the whole drift of our Lord’s discourse. The Capharnaite Jews, who heard Him, were staggered at His sayings, and disbelieved them. Externally the word of God was drawing them then, but they murmured against it, and refused to listen to it. Accordingly our Lord tells them that it was from an absence of inward sanctification that they rejected the outward calls of His word. If they came to Him, it must be by the drawing of the Father, through the grace of His Spirit: for, says He, “No man can come unto Me, except the Father, which hath sent Me, draw him; and I will raise him up at the last day. As it is written in the Prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and that hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me” (vv. 44, 45). If by these words is meant only the outward drawing by external means, it is plain that all who heard Him had such drawing in its most efficient form; yet most of them rejected Him. It is evident that they lacked something more than this. That being taught of God, that learning of the Father, which would bring them to Christ, must therefore have been something within them, not the calls of His word without; and hence we may conclude that our Lord’s words show it to be an invariable rule, a truth coextensive with the nature of fallen man, that no one can come to Christ, or, what is the same thing, turn and prepare himself to faith and calling upon God, without the internal operations of the Spirit of God.

2. To confirm this view of the subject, let us recur to what we saw, in considering the ninth Article, was the doctrine of Scripture concerning our original corruption.

Our Lord states (John viii. 34) that “whosoever committeth sin is the servant (δοῦλος the slave) of sin.” Now all men by nature commit sin, and therefore are slaves of sin. This is what St. Paul calls “the bondage of corruption” (Rom. viii. 21). This natural state of man is, both by our Lord and by the Apostle, contrasted with the liberty of the soul under a state of grace. “If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John viii. 36), says Christ; and St. Paul calls it “the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom. viii. 21). In like manner our Lord distinguishes between the state of a servant and the state of a son (John viii. 35). Nay, so complete is this servitude of sin by nature, that St. Paul, more than once, calls it death. He speaks of people as by nature “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephes. ii. 1; Col. ii. 13). He says of those who had been delivered from this state by grace, that “God had quickened them together with Christ” (Ephes. ii. 5); that those who were baptized into the death of Christ, having been dead in trespasses and sins, God had “quickened together with Him” (Col. ii. 12, 13). Now slavery and death are the strongest terms to express utter helplessness that language admits of. So, freeing from slavery and quickening or raising to life, as plainly as possible, indicate a free gift, independent of the will or power of the recipient, and show that the recipient must previously have been in a condition, as unable to free himself as the bondsman, as unable to quicken himself as a dead man.

In accordance with all this, St. Paul (in Rom. vii. viii., a passage considered in the last Article) argues at length, that man, being by nature “carnal, sold under sin,” even if able to admire what is good, was utterly unable to perform it (Rom. vii. 14‒21), there being a law, ruling in his members, which makes him captive to the law of sin (v. 23). And then he tells us, that the way in which this bondage must be broken is by the Spirit of God taking possession of and ruling in that heart, in which before sin had ruled, and so delivering it from the law of sin. “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death” (viii. 2).

Not only is such helplessness of the unregenerate man plainly taught by our Lord and His Apostles, but we farther find, that the very mind and understanding are represented as darkened by the natural state of corruption, and so incapable of comprehending and appreciating spiritual truth, until enlightened by the Spirit of God. Thus “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; . . . . neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. ii. 14, comp. Rom. viii. 5, 6, 7; Jude 19). Man by nature has no discernment of those things which belong to the Spirit of God; and if so, it is quite clear, that, if he ever attains to spiritual discernment, it must be given him preternaturally.

To this belong all the passages concerning the new birth; for if a new birth be necessary, there must, before it, be an absence of that life which is the product of such a birth. Accordingly, God is represented as begetting us of His own will (James i. 18). To enter into the kingdom, a man must be born again, of water, and of the Spirit (John iii. 3, 5). In Christ Jesus a new creation availeth (Gal. vi. 15). It is not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His own mercy that God saveth us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost (Tit. iii. 5).

In like manner, the Scriptures, when speaking of the good works of Christians, represent them as due, not to any independent effort of the human will, but altogether to the grace of God working in them. Thus our Lord, in a parable, fully declares the whole source and spring of Christian holiness to be the life and virtue derived from Him. He likens Himself to a Vine, and all His disciples to branches. We know, that branches of a tree derive life and strength from the sap, which is sent into them from the root and stem. In like manner our Lord tells us, that, by being branches of Him, we may bring forth good fruit, but that, apart from Him, we can do nothing. “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in Me. I am the Vine, ye are the branches. He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit; for without Me (χωρὶς ἐμοῦ, apart from Me) ye can do nothing” (John xv. 4, 5).

So constantly is this dependence of the Christian upon Divine grace urged by the sacred writers, that they frequently call to our remembrance, not only that we owe our first turning from evil to the quickening of God’s Spirit, but that even the regenerate and the faithful believer is at every step dependent upon the illumination, guidance, strength, and support of the same Divine Comforter and Guide. So St. Paul, writing of himself and other regenerate Christians, says, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves: but our sufficiency is of God” (2 Cor. iii. 6). When urging his faithful converts to “work out their own salvation with fear and trembling,” he adds as an encouragement to them, “For it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Phil. ii. 13). And when speaking with thankfulness of the labours which he himself had been enabled to undergo for the sake of the Gospel, he adds, “Yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me” (1 Cor. xv. 10).

Now all this language of Scripture seems plainly to prove that by nature man has no free will to do good, no power to make independent efforts towards holiness. There is an iron tyranny, a law of sin and death, which keeps him in bondage and deprives him of the power to escape, and even of the discernment of spiritual things, which would make him desire deliverance. From this law of sin and death the Spirit of life can set him free; from this bondage the Son can make him free indeed; but none besides. Nay! he is sleeping the sleep of spiritual death, and therefore needs internal as well as external aid to rouse him; aye! a new creation, a new birth, a new life. And even when set free, quickened, regenerate, he continues still able to act and think uprightly only so long as he derives strength from Christ; just as the branch can bear no fruit, except it derive sap and strength from the stem on which it grows.

II. It being thus proved that by nature man, corrupted by the fall, is not in possession of free will, or more properly, that his will, though unrestrained by God, is yet warped and led captive by evil spirits and his own bad propensities, it remains that we consider the effects of God’s grace upon the will, when setting it free from this captivity. The Article describes these effects, as follows: —

1. God’s grace prevents us, that we may have a good will.

2. It works in us, or with us, when we have that good will.

The passages of Scripture which have been already brought to bear in the former division of the subject, may appear to have sufficiently demonstrated these two propositions.

1. The necessity of preventing grace follows, of course, from the doctrine that man, of himself, cannot turn to God. For, if he cannot turn of himself, he must either remain forever alienated, or must need some power to turn him. In the language of the prophet, “Turn Thou me, and I shall be turned” (Jer. xxxi. 18). Accordingly, we read continually of the first turning of the heart as coming from God. God is said to be “found of them that sought Him not, and made manifest to them that asked not after Him” (Isai. lxv. 1; Rom. x. 20). We read of His opening people’s “hearts so that they attend to the things spoken” (Acts xvi. 14); and we are taught that He “worketh in us both to will and to do” (Phil. ii. 13); so that the regenerate and sanctified Christian is declared to be God’s “workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works” (Eph. ii. 10). God is said to have “wrought” believers for immortality and glory (2 Cor. v. 5). The “new man” is said to be “created in righteousness and true holiness” (Eph. iv. 24).

Such passages, and all others which speak of new birth and new creation, show plainly that God’s grace prevents us, waits not, that is, for us to make advances to Him, but graciously comes forward to help us, whilst yet we are without strength. They show too, that whereas by nature the will was corrupt and not tending to God, bound down and taken captive to the law of sin, so when the grace of God renews it, it is no longer in slavery, but free, choosing life and holiness, not by compulsion, but by free choice and love. “The Son makes us free indeed” (John viii. 36). “The law of the Spirit of life makes us free from the law of sin and death” (Rom. viii. 2). There is a “glorious liberty for the children of God” (Rom. viii. 21). It is, “to liberty” that we “have been called” (Gal. v. 13); for, “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Cor. iii. 17).

We see then the contrast which exists between the will in its natural corrupt state, and the will in its regenerate and purified state. In the former it is enslaved; in the latter it is free. Satan keeps it a bond-slave in the first; God sets it free in the last. Then it could only choose evil; now it is free to choose good. Then under the law of sin and death; now under “the perfect law of liberty” (James i. 25).

2. But the will, thus set free, needs farther support, guidance, and strength. The new-born Christian has still a conflict to undergo, for which he requires the whole armour of God. This is expressed in the Article, by the words “working with us when we have that good will.”

The Latin Article has the word cooperante, which in the first English translation was rendered “working in us;” but in 1572 it was expressed somewhat more closely after the Latin, “working with us.”

Such expressions of course imply that when the will is renewed there is need of farther grace to support it, but, at the same time, that the renewed man is to exert himself in the strength of that grace, and to work under its influence.

The doctrine of cooperation has been opposed by many as assigning too much strength to man. Man, say they, is altogether too weak either to begin the work of grace, or even, after that work is begun, to contribute anything towards its completion. It is patching the pure robe of Christ’s righteousness to add any of the filthy rags of man’s works to it. Accordingly, St. Paul attributes all his own labours, not to himself, but to “the grace of God which was with him” (1 Cor. xv. 10); and says, “I no longer live myself (ζῶ δὲ οὐκέτι ἐγὼ), but Christ liveth in me” (Gal. ii. 20). And it is written that God “worketh in us,” not with us, “both to will and to do” (Phil. ii. 13).

Whether coöperation be a good expression or not, and whether it be altogether reverent to speak as if the Holy Spirit of God and man’s renewed will act in concert together, is of course fairly open to question. In general, no doubt the Scriptures speak of God’s working in us, rather than with us. Yet the doctrine of our Article, rightly understood, rests on a sound foundation.

In the first instance indeed man’s will is represented as being under bondage. Spiritually we are described as slaves, blind, dead. But as we have seen, the Son is said to “make us free;” the “law of the Spirit of life frees us from the law of sin and death;” and so we are brought into “the glorious liberty of the children of God.” Thus it appears that Christ’s service is indeed perfect freedom. The will, no longer enslaved and bowed down, is set at liberty and enabled to act; and though, whenever and howsoever it acts in a good direction, it is always acting under the guidance and governance of the Spirit of God, yet it does not follow that that guidance is a yoke of bondage, or of irresistible necessity. Accordingly, when the Apostle has explained how the Spirit frees us from the law of sin, and brings us into the glorious liberty of God’s children (Rom. viii. 2‒21), he tells us a little farther on, that whereas we still continue weak and ignorant, “the Spirit helpeth our infirmities” (ver. 26). In the very same breath in which he tells us that “it is God that worketh in us both to will and to do,” he bids us “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. ii. 12, 13). And so he speaks of himself as using all kinds of self-discipline (1 Cor. ix. 27), and as “pressing forward to the mark for the prize of the high calling” (Phil. iii. 14).

To this purpose are all the exhortations of Scripture addressed to those who are under grace, not to miss the blessings which God has prepared for them. For example, we have warnings not to “defile the temple of God,” i. e. not to pollute with sin our bodies, in which God’s Spirit dwells (1 Cor. iii. 17); not to grieve, not to quench the Spirit (Eph. iv. 30; 1 Thess. v. 19); not to neglect the gift which is in us, but to stir it up (1 Tim. iv. 14; 2 Tim. i. 6); not to “receive the grace of God in vain” (2 Cor. vi. 1); “to stand fast,” and not “fall from grace” (Gal. v. 1‒4); “to take heed lest there be an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God” (Heb. iii. 12); to “look diligently, lest any man fail of the grace of God” (Heb. xii. 15) ; when we think we are standing, “to take heed lest we fall” (1 Cor. x. 12).

Now all such passages do indeed plainly presuppose that all the good we can do comes from the Spirit of God working in us. Yet they seem as plainly to prove that that blessed Spirit does not move the will as a mere machine, so that it is impossible for it to resist or neglect His blessed influences. It seems plain from them, that under those influences, and guided by them, the renewed heart moves willingly; and that, whenever those influences do not produce their full effect, it is because the remains of corruption in that heart resist and counteract them. And this is all that is meant in the Article by the term cooperante, “working with us.”

If, indeed, according to the sentiment of Luther, quoted in the former section, man’s will was first a mere bond-slave of sin, and after grace equally a slave, or machine, moved passively and irresistibly by the Spirit, we can hardly understand how it should be that men are not all equally abandoned before grace, and all equally moving onward to perfection under grace. Since by that theory the will is entirely passive under the motions of the Spirit, opposing no obstacle to them, and therefore, as we should suppose, likely in all persons to be fully and perfectly sanctified.

The doctrine of Scripture, however, is evidently expressed in the words of our Article. God must give the will, must set the will free from its natural slavery, before it can turn to good; but then it moves in the freedom which He has bestowed upon it, and never so truly uses that freedom, as when it follows the motions of the Spirit. Yet clearly there remains some power to resist and to do evil. For, though “those that have no will to good things God maketh them to will; . . . Yet, nevertheless, He enforceth not the will.”[48] And so, although He must work in us, yet we, under His influences, must strive and press forward, not resisting Him, not neglecting, but stirring up His gifts in our hearts.


  1. This is the reading of the copy of the Articles as set forth in 1571. In 1562 the words run “working in us,” and such was the reading in 1552.
  2. The Article, as it stood in 1552, began with the words, “We have no power.” The former part was prefixed in 1562 by Abp. Parker, having been taken from the Wirtemburg Confession, the words of which are: — Quod autem nonnulli affirmant homini post lapsum tantam animi integritatem relictam, ut possit sese, naturalibus suis viribus et bonis operibus, ad fidem et invocationem Dei convertere ac præparare, haud obscure pugnat cum Apostolica doctrina et cum vero Ecclesiæ Catholicaæ consensu. The latter part, which constituted the whole of the original Article, has adopted the language of St. Augustine: — Sine illo vel operante ut velimus, vel cooperante cum volumus, ad bonæ pietatis opera nihil valemus. — De Gratia et Libero Arbitrio, cap. 17. See Abp. Laurence, B. L. pp. 101, 235.
  3. Dial. cum Tryphone, Opera, p. 290.
  4. Apol. I. Opera, p. 80.
  5. Apol. II. Opera, p. 45.
  6. E. g.πὶ Θεὸν τὸν πάντα ποιήσαντα ἐλπίζειν δεῖ πάντας, καὶ παρ ἐκείνου μόνου σωτηρίαν καὶ βοηθείαν ζητεῖν · ἀλλὰ μὴ, ὡς λοιποὺς τῶν ἀνθρώπων, διὰ γένος ἢ πλοῦτον ἢ ἰσχὺν ἢ σοϕίαν νομίζειν δύνασθαι σώζεσθαι. —Dial. c. Tryph. Opp. p. 329. Concerning Justin Martyr’s opinions on free will, consult Bp. Kaye’s Justin Martyr, p. 75, ch. III.; Faber’s Primitive Doctrine of Election, Bk. I. ch. XI.
  7. See History of the Ninth Article.
  8. E. g. Sicut arida terra, si non percipiat humorem, non fructificat: sic et nos, aridum lignum existentes primum, nunquam fructificaremus vitam, sine suprema voluntaria pluvia. — Adv. Hær. III. 19. Concerning the opinions of Irenæus on free will, see Faber as above, and Beaven’s Account of Irenæus, ch. XI. p. 112.
  9. Tertull. Adv. Marcion, Lib. II. 8, 9, &c.
  10. Tertullian, De Anima, c. 21‒30. See Bishop Kaye’s Tertullian, pp. 330, 522.
  11. De Princip. Lib. I. cap. 5.
  12. Lib. II. cap. 9, num. 7.
  13. Et per hoc consequens est in nobis esse, atque in nostris motibus, ut vel beati vel sancti simus, vel per desidiam et negligentiam a beatitudine in malitiam et perditionem vergamus, in tantum ut nimius profectus (ut ita dixerim) malitiæ, si quis in tantum sui neglexerit, usque ad eum statum deveniat, ut ea quæ dicitur contraria virtus efficiatur. — Lib. I. cap. 5, num. 5.
  14. Lib. I. cap. 4.
  15. Dupin, Ecclesiastical Hist. Cent. III. Origen. It seems as if Clement of Alexandria pressed the doctrine of free will to a very undue extent, though not so far nor so systematically as his great pupil Origen. See Bp. Kaye’s Clement of Alexandria, ch. x. p. 429.
  16. Beausobre, and apparently Lardner who quotes him, doubt whether the Manichees did believe the will to be so thoroughly enslaved. See Lardner, Hist. of Manichees, Sec. IV. 13. Vol. III. p. 474.
  17. For instance, see the treatise De Libero Arbitrio, Opp. Tom. I.
  18. For example, De Spiritu et Litera, § 52, Tom. X. p. 114. Liberum ergo arbitrium evacuamus per gratiam? Absit, sed magis liberum arbitrium statuimus. Sicut enim lex per fidem, sic liberum arbitrium per gratiam non evacuatur sed statuitur. Neque enim lex impletur nisi libero arbitrio: sed per legem cognitio peccati, per fidem impetratio gratiæ contra peccatum, per gratiam sanatio animæ a vitio peccati, per animæ sanitatem libertas arbitrii, per liberum arbitrium justitiæ dilectio, per justitiæ dilectionem legis operatio. Ac per hoc, sicut lex non evacuatur, sed statuitur per fidem, quia fides impetrat gratiam, qua lex impleatur: ita liberum arbitrium non evacuatur per gratiam, sed statuitur, quia gratia sanat voluntatem, qua justitia libere diligatur.
  19. Wall, Infant Baptism, I. p. 357; Collier, Eccl. Hist. Book I., and the account of Pelagianism given under Article IX.
  20. Victoriam nostram non ex Dei esse adjutorio, sed ex libero arbitrio. — August. De Gestis Pelagii, Tom. X. p. 215.
  21. Mosheim, Eccl. Hist. Cent. v. pt. II. ch. v. § 26. Vitalis held that “God did work in us to will, by the Scriptures either read or heard by us; but that to consent to them or not consent is so in our own power that if we will it may be done.” — August. Epist. CVII. ad Vitalem.
  22. See Mosheim, Cent. IX. pt. II. ch. III.
  23. Acts x. 4: “Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God.”
  24. Laurence, B. L. Serm. IV. and the notes to that Sermon passim. Neander, vol. VIII. pp. 230, 231. Neander points out the marked distinction between the doctrine of grace de congruo, as held by Aquinas, and the same doctrine, as held by Alexander of Hales and the Franciscans.
  25. Cæterum erga Deum, vel in rebus quæ pertinent ad salutem vel damnationem, non habet liberum arbitrium, sed captivus, subjectus et servus est vel voluntatis Dei, vel voluntatis Satanæ. — De Servo Arbitrio, Opp. Tom. I. p. 432.
  26. Si enim credimus verum esse, quod Deus præscit et præordinat omnia, tum neque falli neque impediri potest sua præscientia et prædestinatione, deinde nihil fieri nisi ipso volente, id quod ipsa ratio cogitur concedere, simul ipsa ratione teste, nullum potest esse liberum arbitrium in homine vel angelo, aut ulla creatura. —Id. p. 481.
  27. Sarpi, pp. 134, 210; Heylyn, Historia Quinquarticularis, pt. I. ch. IV.
  28. Non habet vim sine Spiritu Sancto efficiendæ justitiæ Dei, seu justitiæ spiritualis, quia animalis homo non percipit ea, quæ sunt Spiritus Dei. — Art. XVII.; Sylloge, p. 129.
  29. Art. XIX. De causa peccati docent, quod tametsi Deus creat et conservat naturam, tamen causa peccati est voluntas malorum, videlicet diaboli et impiorum, quæ non adjuvante Deo avertit se a Deo, sicut Christus ait Joh. viii., Cum loquitur mendacium, ex seipso loquitur. — Syll. p. 130.
  30. Stet ergo nobis indubia ista veritas, quæ nullis machinamentis quatefieri potest, mentem hominis sic alienatam prorsus a Dei justitia, ut nihil non impium, contortum, fœdum, impurum, flagitiosum concipiat, concupiscat, moliatur: cor peccati veneno ita penitus delibutum, ut nihil quam corruptum fœtorem efflare queat. — Calv. Institut. Lib. II. cap. v. 19.
  31. Confess. Belgica, Sylloge, p. 234.
  32. Heylyn’s Hist. Quinq. pt. I. ch. v.; Mosheim, Eccl. Hist. Cent. XVII. Sect. II. pt. II.
  33. Heylyn and Mosheim as above.
  34. Sylloge, p. 406, Art. VI.
  35. Ibid. p. 409, Art. XV.
  36. Ibid. p. 431, Art. XVI.
  37. See Bp. Hall’s Observations on some Specialities in his Life.
  38. See, for example, Heylyn, H. Q. pt. I. ch. VI.
  39. Mosheim, Cent. XVI. Sect. III. pt. I.
  40. Ibid. Cent. XVII. Sect. II. pt. I. § 35.
  41. Ibid. Cent. XVII. Sect. II. pt. I. § 40.
  42. Ibid. Cent. XVI. Sect. III. pt. II. 17.
  43. Formularies of Faith in the Reign of Henry VIII. p. 359, where see the Article of Free Will at length.
  44. See Laurence, B. L. passim, especially Sermon v.
  45. Heylyn’s H. Q. pt. III. ch. XVII. On the state of parties, &c. in Elizabeth’s reign, see Soames’s Elizabethan Religious History.
  46. Heylyn’s H. Q. pt. III. ch. XX.
  47. Heylyn, pt. III. ch. XXII.; Cardwell’s History of Conferences, p. 178, &c.
  48. Art. of 1552.


E. Harold Browne

(Edward) Harold Browne was an English bishop, born at Aylesbury and educated at Eton and Cambridge. He was ordained in 1836, and two years later was elected senior tutor of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. From 1843 to 1849 he was vice-principal of St David’s College, Lampeter, and in 1854 was appointed Norrisian professor of divinity at Cambridge. His best-known book is the Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles (vol. i., Cambridge, 1850; vol. ii., London, 1853), which remained for many years a standard work on the subject and is still beloved today. In 1864 he was consecrated bishop of Ely.

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