Sovereignty, Free Will and Salvation

Sovereignty, Free Will and Salvation

by Charles Hodge

The Decrees of God

HERE you come to one of the watersheds of doctrine. The question of the decrees divides Evangelical Christians into two great camps, Calvinistic and Arminian, the point of difference being in effect this—as to whether God’s decrees are determined by Himself, or by something out of Himself.

The Unity of God’s Plan

All God’s works constitute one system; all His decrees one purpose. We, being finite, can grasp His plan only very partially; and we are wont to speak of His decrees in the plural. But it was one act by which He, knowing all possible systems, chose this one.

God’s Nature logically anterior to His Will

Chronologically, there is no before or after in God; but logically, His nature, with its laws of reason and righteousness, precedes His will.

How different Extremists overlooked this

The Arminians on the one hand, and the Supralapsarians on the other, made God’s will the origin of right—forgetting that it is not the greatness of God but the quality of God, His nature (of which His will is the expression), that determines right. The will of an infinite Beelzebub would not make him the author of right.

God’s Decrees rational

God’s decrees are eminently rational. All His attributes go into them, just as the whole human soul is engaged in willing, or in any other function.

A Canon and its Consequence

It is a canon, that the first thing in intention is the last in execution. We must know the final end before we can rightly understand the process. Experience cannot reveal to us the Almighty’s final purpose. Our à priori intuitions may tell us something of it; but it is to Scripture we must go.

The Problem of the Wheelbarrow

Logically, the agent comes before the act, but not necessarily chronologically. There was a fallacy when the boy called the wheelbarrow an exception.

Are God’s Operations conditioned?

We men start under law, and have to operate under it: for instance, in establishing telegraphic communication with England, we had to use means under law. But God creates the means, as well as appoints the end. The Unconditioned can become conditioned only through His own will. God, to begin with, is conditioned simply by His own Nature and His inter-personal relations. And though He now works according to the laws of the universe, He is conditioned by these only as to His operations. These very laws are the resultant of His will.

A Rising Scale

The movement of the automaton is not self-determined: that of the fly is self-determined, but not rationally: that of the student is rationally self-determined: that of God is rationally self-determined, and free from all ab extra influence.

The Divine Right of Creation

God had a right to form a moral system, and to have a holy universe. Now, holiness is the loyalty of a free will toward Him, and necessarily implies the choice of allegiance or rebellion. God might have determined to create only those who, He foresaw, would be faithful to Him; but He determined to create the others too, who by their freewill would sin against Him. God is responsible for the acts of His necessitated creatures, but not for the acts of those that have the exercise of freewill.

Responsibility for Consequences

A free agent cannot be held responsible for all the consequences of his act. A father may be justified in putting his son from the house for the sake of the sisters and younger boys, though he knows that son will go to the devil. The responsibility of the latter’s profligacy does not lie with the father. When Abraham Lincoln declared war to save the Union, he knew that crimes would follow—many of them perpetrated by the Union army itself. But he was not responsible for these.

Fore-seeing and Fore-ordination

In the case of human beings, the fore-seeing of a consequence is not the determination of a consequence. Take the case supposed above. A father introduces a rule into his family which he regards as needful for the best good of the whole. Though he may foresee that it will expedite the ruin of one boy bent on going to the bad, while it will be the saving of the rest, the father cannot be said to determine the evil consequence to that boy. With God, however, the case is different. He, in the fore-seeing, is not placed in the midst of things. He sees all from the beginning, and if He permits anything thus foreseen, what is that but equivalent to its “fore-ordination”?

The Theological Problem of Sin

The psychological problem of the origin of evil may so far be solved; but the theological is, with man’s present light, insoluble. A priori, I would expect that in God’s universe there would be no sin. A posteriori, there is sin. All that can be said is—there is an infinite God, and yet there is sin; so that, though we cannot explain the permission of evil in His universe, we cannot declare it inconsistent with the perfection of any of God’s attributes.

The Two Great Mysteries in Theology

These are—(1) The constitution of Christ’s person (in two natures); and (2) the concursus between God’s sovereign decree and man’s free will.

How much depends on the point of view

Whoever emphasizes God tends to Calvinism; whoever emphasizes man tends to Arminianism. Just as in looking at the moon we see the stars in the background, we see, in looking at the Arminian, Deism behind; and he, looking at us Calvinists, sees, or thinks he sees, Fatalism behind us.

How did God harden Pharaoh’s heart?

He withdrew the Spirit’s influence, and thus allowed him to remain hard and to grow still harder.

Is there such a thing as Chance?

“Chance” is a relation. The word does mean something; and it is, therefore, foolish to tell children, that “there is no such thing as chance.” It is a relation in which the connection between cause and effect is too subtle for our discovery, or too complex for us to calculate. The planet’s motion, for instance, we can reckon and predict; the fall of dice we cannot, not because the case is too subtle, but because the calculation is too complex. So, too, with a projectile like a cannon ball,—given the direction and quantity of force, we can tell where it will light. It is different with the fall of a leaf, owing to its irregular shape and the uncertain impact of the gusts of wind that may carry it we know not whither. Yet, in the strict sense, there is as little “chance” in the fall of the dice as in the course of the planet, or in the fall of the leaf as in the destination of the cannon ball. Chance is not a thing, but a relation. With God there is no chance—because He knows all forces and their direction.

Two Calvinistic Distinctions

There are conditional events; but God’s purposes are not conditional.
God wills by genuine desire sometimes (e.g., “that all men should be saved”), when not by executive purpose.

Are our Freewill Actions “determined”?

God does not cause our free acts, but determines their futurition. These are two very different things. I think—I feel—I say; but God determines my action, without causing it. The decree determines everything—causes nothing. God did not cause man to sin; but He pre-determined that He would sin, and yet created him.

What of the Heathen?

The heathen are condemned and ought to be, because, speaking of them as a class, they are born rascals. I say it with all reverence, and without a desire of self-will in the matter, that if these men (and I have been among them) go to heaven as they are, I don’t want to go. Liars, whore-mongers, full of all bestiality—look at their state, and say, where are they going? You know whither yon planet is tending, and where it will be next month; and you need be in no doubt as to where these poor souls, left to themselves, will be after death. Hence it is poor reasoning to say—don’t go on missions to the heathen, because God can’t damn them till they have heard the gospel!

Election works through the Will

I tell my son that if he works well this week, I shall give him an excursion on Saturday. Having studied his nature, I know that if I leave him alone, he will slide along and not work. But I know how to influence him, so as to make him voluntarily work well all the week, and get the holiday at the end of it! We find the same principle in an infinitely higher sphere. Salvation is conditioned on faith; but it is by God influencing some men to believe, that salvation is secured for them.

Two meanings of “Will”

“Will” is sometimes put for the conative faculties generally; sometimes for the faculty of choosing, or of self-determination.

What is Volition?

Volition is spontaneity guided by reason. It is an expression of the freedom to will. This is a very different thing from freedom to act, as many a poor captive in chains has known.

A moral Can’t and Won’t

All men are under condemnation. They cannot believe because they won’t. It is a moral (or immoral) can’t and won’t. The very want of belief is sin, and therefore furnishes no excuse.

The Sovereignty of God in Common Life

It is said that God is “no respecter of persons.” But the connection in the epistle of James should be noted. It is true that God does not respect a shoddy aristocracy. But He does make differences among men. Take the child of a pious and high-born lady, for instance, and the child of an abandoned woman of the street; have these “the same chance”? God is sovereign.

The Order of Decrees

Supralapsarian—Elect and damn; create; permit fall; send Christ, &c.
Infralapsarian—Create; permit fall; elect; send Christ, &c.
Hypothetical—Create; permit fall; make salvation possible to all; give efficacious grace to some.
Arminian—Create; permit fall; provide in Christ redemption for all; make result turn on man’s freewill and co-operation.

The Theories Contrasted

The Infralapsarian is the view maintained by most Calvinists. It puts election before redemption, therein differing from the Hypothetical theory, which puts redemption before election, and brings in efficacious grace as an after-thought to prevent total failure. In putting creation before election, the Infralapsarian is not open to the objection applicable to the Supralapsarian theory, that God created some in order to damn them. The hypothetical scheme (of Amyraut, &c.) is the least logical of all, though Richard Baxter in England, and also the New England school, adopted it. It is a middle ground that cannot be held; for if God set out with the intention of saving all, He would certainly have secured the result. The Arminian doctrine looks plausible at certain points, but it does not really relieve any of the difficulties of Calvinism; and it is in the latter that Atheism in the long run will have to find its true antagonist.

Are we responsible for our state of heart?

The Arminian says, A man is responsible and punishable only for his voluntary acts and states. The Calvinist says, A bad heart, no matter how it originated, is wicked and deserving of punishment. We are responsible for our states as well as our acts.

“Grace,” a word the Arminian should not use

A man spoils my grandfather, and I come into the world poor in consequence. By-and-bye, the man comes to me and refunds. I accept the payment, but when he puts on an air of condescension and charity, and talks of liberality, I say—“Stop; this is not of grace, but of debt.” Now, Arminians say that since God allowed Adam to propagate a sinful race, he owed it to that race, to give them grace sufficient to be improved to their salvation. What is this but to make salvation not of grace but of debt? Thus, whatever speculative advantage their system may seem to have, it leads to a virtual denial of the doctrine of grace. “Grace” is a word, indeed, that an Arminian should never utter—that is, while speaking as a logician; though happily in their religious experiences Arminians and Calvinists are often agreed.*

Irresistible Grace, not Coercion

When the wind beat upon the man in Esop, it made him only draw his cloak the closer round him. But when the sun made him hot, he by his own will threw off the cloak, which the storm without had not torn from him. You might be got out of this room in two ways: a strong man might come and thrust you out, or a beautiful lady might invite and thereby draw you! Now, it is an utter misconception to suppose that by “irresistible grace” is meant an ab extra coercing influence. Grace acts from within, through the will. The man becomes willing: and so there is no resistance or desire to offer it. To be “made willing in the day of God’s power” is the highest liberty.