Agonizomai: Free Will Costs a Lot

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Free Will Costs a Lot
"The greatest judgment which God Himself can, in this present life, inflict upon a man is, to leave him in the hand of his own boasted free-will."

Augustus Toplady


Blogger Derek Ashton said...


Did you happen to read the comments on my post about Pharaoh's hardened heart? Most likely, Augustus Toplady wasn't the first to say this, but he said it well. I argue in the comments that this is possibly the primary meaning of God hardening Pharaoh's heart.

Some would call this "passive" hardening, but I believe it is so much in God's merciful nature to save us, that letting us go can only be active and deliberate on His part - not passive at all. Yet the resulting destruction comes out of our own corrupt will, not His. It is a righteous judgment, an expression of His just wrath against sin. But I won't steal your thunder from the forthcoming Romans study.

Good quote, this is axiomatic truth that should never be overlooked.

4:10 pm  
Blogger agonizomai said...


I actually made a second comment on your original post about Pharaoh - mostly related to Sproul's theology - but it seems to have disappeared into the meta. I didn't keep a copy so I guess it's gone forever.

The gist was that I didn't see paradox in Sproul's arguments in the article you cited. I thought that logic applied under the authority of God's revealed Word was sufficient to resolve the issues in question.

I think there is a general tendency to confuse what has been revealed with what has not. For example, the question of Pharaoh's heart is not a conundrum for me. I take to heart the Federal nature of my state in Adam, and the universal corruption of original sin in his descendants.

We are already all under God's just condemnation from conception and we willingly exult in that place as we become fully self-aware. Consequently we are all of the same lump judicially. And God has the just and good right to do with parts of that lump as He wishes.

He can save some out of the lump by bringing the influences of His Spirit to bear in many ways, the chief of which is regeneration. He can leave some in various stages of their degenerate manifestation by supplying common grace or withholding it - and no blame or culpability for the evil of these people attaches in any way to God, since grace automatically infers undeserved blessings given to people who don't seek them.

For people who have a problem with the so-called "fairness" of the Federal model I always point them to the Federal nature of Christ's justification of His people. IOW you can't be saved without imputation so what's the problem with being depraved by imputation? It cuts both ways.

But the decree of election is nevertheless different in operation from the decree of reprobation. We may rightly choose not to use the word "passive" about reprobation, but the fact that one (election) emanates from His saving love and the other (reprobation) from His holiness - that one is pure grace and the other pure justice makes a clear distinction. We are saved on account of God's grace alone and condemned on account of our own willing sin.

Thus, on reflection, I, too, think "passive hardening" is a misnomer. Like you I believe God either actively saves and sanctifies or he actively leaves people of a state of depravity. The problem arises when people think of Pharaoh's hardening of his own heart as a mere option - as if he could either obey God or not obey God out of his own free agency. Not so. His natural inclination, unless restrained in some way by the influences of God's common grace, is always rebellion.

So if there is paradox at all here, it is the fact that man is responsible to obey even though morally incapable of doing so, absent the operation of God's Spirit of grace. But I 'm so used to this truth that I don't think of it as paradox any longer.



11:32 pm  
Blogger Derek Ashton said...

God "actively leaves" us in a state of depravity. I like that wording; the words are at least ironic (if not genuinely paradoxical). And it's a much more accurate way to describe reprobation than "passive hardening" is.

One distinction I would make on your final point: Pharaoh could not "obey" God in the sense of choosing salvation all on his own. But letting the Hebrews go free was within the scope of his God-given authority and capability. Hence the need for God to harden his heart, preventing him from doing what he would otherwise have done. This is not a case of having free will to choose to love God or not, but having the ability to choose to do something that would make perfect logical sense to any other person in that situation. The plagues would convince almost any sinner to outwardly comply with God's command, even though the heart would still be raging against Him. I think God continued the hardening of Pharaoh's heart so that He could display His wondrous mercy in the Passover. Indeed, I don't see the Pharaoh story so much as an illustration of what God does in every sinner's case as what He did in a special instance, preventing a sinner from doing what should have been natural in the interest of self-preservation. But Paul seems to use it as an illustration of God's sovereignty in reprobation also, so we can't discount that as a Biblically warranted application.

12:02 pm  

Post a Comment

<< Home