God’s Sovereignty and the Human Will – A.W. Pink
The following is from A.W. Pink’s book “The Sovereignty of God” Chapter 7 “God’s Sovereignty and the Human Will”
“It is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Phil. 2: 13).
Concerning the nature and the power of fallen man’s will, the greatest confusion prevails today, and the most erroneous views are held, even by many of God’s children. The popular idea now prevailing, and which is taught from the great majority of pulpits, is that man has a “free will,” and that salvation comes to the sinner through his will co-operating with the Holy Spirit. To deny the “free will” of man, i.e., his power to choose that which is good, his native ability to accept Christ, is to bring one into disfavor at once, even before most of those who profess to be orthodox. And yet Scripture emphatically says, “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy” (Rom. 9:16). Which shall we believe: God, or the preachers?
But some one may reply, Did not Joshua say to Israel, “Choose you this day whom ye will serve”? Yes, he did; but why not complete his sentence-”whether the gods which your fathers served which were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell” (Josh. 24:15)! But why attempt to pit Scripture against Scripture? The Word of God never contradicts itself, and the Word expressly declares, “There is none that seeketh after God” (Rom. 3:11). Did not Christ say to the men of His day “Ye will not come to Me, that ye might have life” (John 5:40)? Yes, but some did “come” to Him, some did receive Him. True and who were they? John 1:12, 13 tells us: “But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, to them that believe on His name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God”!
But does not Scripture say, “Whosoever will may come”? It does, but does this signify that everybody has the will to come? What of those who won’t come? “Whosoever will may come” no more implies that fallen man has the power (in himself) to come, than “Stretch forth thine hand” implied that the man with the withered arm had ability (in himself) to comply. In and of himself the natural man has power to reject Christ; but in and of himself he has not the power to receive Christ. And why? Because he has a mind that is “enmity against” Him (Rom. 8:7); because he has a heart that hates Him (John 15:18). Man chooses that which is according to his nature, and therefore before he will ever choose or prefer that which is Divine and spiritual a new nature must be imparted to him; in other words, he must be born again.
Should it be asked, But does not the Holy Spirit overcome a man’s enmity and hatred when He convicts the sinner of his sins and his need of Christ; and does not the Spirit of God produce such conviction in many that perish? Such language betrays confusion of thought: were such a man’s enmity really “overcome,” then he would readily turn to Christ; that he does not come to the Saviour demonstrates that his enmity is not overcome. But that many are, through the preaching of the Word, convicted by the Holy Spirit, who nevertheless die in unbelief, is solemnly true. Yet, it is a fact which must not be lost sight of that the Holy Spirit does something more in each of God’s elect than He does in the non-elect: He works in them “both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).
In reply to what we have said above, Arminians would answer, No; the Spirit’s work of conviction is the same both in the converted and in unconverted, that which distinguishes the one class from the other is that the former yielded to His strivings whereas the latter resist them. But if this were the case then the Christian would have ground for boasting and self-glorying over his cooperation with the Spirit; but this would flatly contradict Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.”
Let us appeal to the actual experience of the Christian reader. Was there not a time (may the remembrance of it bow each of us into the dust) when you were unwilling to come to Christ? There was. Since then you have come to Him. Are you now prepared to give Him all the glory for that (Psa. 115:1)? Do you not acknowledge you came to Christ because the Holy Spirit brought you from unwillingness to willingness? You do. Then is it not also a patent fact that the Holy Spirit has not done in many others what He has in you! Granting that many others have heard the Gospel, been shown their need of Christ, yet, they are still unwilling to come to Him. Thus He has wrought more in you than in them. Do you answer, Yet I remember well the time when the Great Issue was presented to me, and my consciousness testifies that my will acted and that I yielded to the claims of Christ upon me. Quite true. But before you “yielded” the Holy Spirit overcame the native enmity of your mind against God, and this “enmity” He does not overcome in all. Should it be said, That is because they are unwilling for their enmity to be overcome. Ah! none are thus “‘willing” till He has put forth His all-mighty power and wrought a miracle of grace in the heart.
But let us now inquire, What is the human Will? Is it a self-determining agent, or is it, in turn, determined by something else? Is it Sovereign or servant? Is the will superior to every other faculty of our being so that it governs them, or is it moved by their impulses and subject to their pleasure? Does the will rule the mind, or does the mind control the will? Is the will free to do as it pleases, or is it under the necessity of rendering obedience to something outside of itself? “Does the will stand apart from the other great faculties or powers of the soul, a man within a man, who can reverse the man and fly against the man and split him into segments, as a glass snake breaks in pieces? Or, is the will connected with the other faculties, as the tail of the serpent is with his body, and that again with his head, so that where the head goes, the whole creature goes, and, as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he? First thought, then heart (desire or aversion), and then act. Is it this way, the dog wags the tail? Or, is it the will, the tail, wags the dog? Is the will the first and chief thing in man, or is it the last thing-to be kept subordinate, and in its place beneath the other faculties? and, is the true philosophy of moral action and its process that of Genesis 3:6: ‘And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food’ (sense-perception, intelligence), ‘and a tree to be desired’ (affections), ‘she took and ate thereof’ (the will).” (George S. Bishop). These are questions of more than academical interest. They are of practical importance. We believe that we do not go too far when we affirm that the answer returned to these questions is a fundamental test of doctrinal soundness.