How Free is the Free-Will of Man in the Fallen State?

Taken and adapted from, “AN ANTIDOTE AGAINST ARMINIANISM or A TREATISE TO ENERVATE AND CONFUTE ALL FIVE POINTS OF IT” with extracts from Dr. John Gill, Dr. Isaac Watts, Augustus Toplady, John Newton, J. Hart, etc.  Recommended by Dr. John Owen, and published for the public good.
Written and edited by Christopher Ness
Fourth Edition published in London, in the Year 1700


1    The Fall implies the loss of that original righteousness and perfection in which man was created.

If the other faculties of the soul became depraved, and were stripped of their primitive luster by the Fall, then the will must also share in that depravation. Now the depravity of the will is proved by considering the good it has lost, and the evil it has gained, through Adam’s sin. The good it has lost is six-fold: it has lost power, order, stability, prudence, obedience, and liberty. The evil it has gained is a three-fold rebellion:

(a.) Against the counsel of the mind,
(b.) Against the controls of conscience, and
(c.) Against the commands of God.

This king of the Isle of Man (the will), when he first came out of God’s mint, was a curious silver-piece, and it shone most gloriously; but now, having fallen among thieves, it is robbed of everything; it has ashes for beauty and is a tyrant upon a dunghill; indeed, it is free from righteousness, but a slave to sin (Romans 6:17-20). Before the Fall, the will had liberty both to good or evil, to do or not to do; but since the Fall, the will is evil, only evil, and continually evil (Genesis 6:5). The whole heart is now extensively evil, intensively only evil, and continually adding evil.

2    If conversion is a new creation, then fallen man does not have a free-will towards good.

A convert is called a “new creature,” or a “new creation” in Galatians 6:15, and 2 Corinthians 5:17. Creation is producing something out of nothing; but if there is a free-will to do good in man before conversion, then there is something of its own nature that is spiritually good towards the work of conversion in unconverted man; so it cannot be called a new creature after conversion. I am sure that every experienced soul finds the contrary to be true in that work of conversion; the whole frame is out of frame in the unconverted state, and man is a confused chaos, a vast emptiness when this creating power comes upon him. In fact, a greater power is required to re-create this little world than was required to create the greater world at first; for in this work, there is no pre-existing good matter to work with, and yet there is resisting evil matter present. The creation of the greater world was the work of God’s Word (Psalms 33:6); of His fingers (Psalms 8:3); or of His hands (Psalms 102:25). But to restore (the little world) man, requires God’s arm (Luke 1:51); no, Christ set His sides to it (Luke 22:44); it cost Him tears and agony and blood. New qualities and operations are created in us; the will to will what is good, and the power to do what is good, are ascribed to this creative almighty power in the effectual conversion of souls to God. “It is God who works in you, both to will and to do His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).

3    If conversion is a new-birth, or re-generation, then fallen man has no free-will to do what is good.

Generation is the movement toward being, and proceeding into being; it presupposes that there is no being beforehand; for we are not, we are nothing, before we are begotten; as it holds true in generation, so it is in regeneration: “Of His own will He birthed us” (James 1:18).37 It is not said that God birthed us of our wills (yet this would be said if there were a free-will in us to do good) but of God’s own will; and till then we do not exist ( 1 Corinthians 1:28).38

Unconverted men are nothing creatures.

(a.) A natural nothing; for what is the great womb from which all things come into being, but nothing?
(b.) A moral nothing; we are morally worse than nothing, and that is miserable; “Man is vanity,” or as in Hebrew, Adam is Abel, that is, vanity (Psalms 39:5); “and a lie” (Psalms 62:9). “The heart of the wicked has little worth” (Proverbs 10:20); neither for use nor for service; as a shadow is not useful for war, nor a statue for prayer, so fallen man is unfit to serve God, for his best actions are sinful. All this shows that we are nothing, and we do not have a free-will to do good, till we are begotten of God.

4    If conversion is a new birth, then fallen man has no free-will to do good.

We cannot have give birth to ourselves; a babe cannot be born of itself; nothing can have its original from itself, for it would then be before and after itself; it would be and it would not be, at the same time. Thus we are taught to look above ourselves for our new birth. “Unless a man is born again,” or from above (John 3:3). We are born not of the flesh, “but of the Spirit” (John 3:6). Our first birth is of the earth; it is earthy; our second birth is from the Lord; it is Heavenly; we are “born of God” (1 John 3:9).

5    If conversion makes someone alive who was dead in sin, then fallen man has no free-will to do good.

This is proved from Ephesians 2:1: “He has made alive You who were dead” etc. He does not say half-dead, like the man who fell among thieves (Luke 10:30); but he is wholly dead as to spiritual life. There is no manner of good in us (Romans 7:18). And “we are not sufficient of ourselves to think” a good thought till Christ quickens us (2Corinthians 3:5). “Without Him we can do nothing” (John 15:5). From Him our fruit is found (Hosea 14:8); both the bud of good desires, the blossom of good purposes, and the fruit of good actions. Aaron’s rod (a dry stick without a root) is a fit emblem; it budded, blossomed, and brought forth almonds; this was not done by any inward principle or power of nature; it was solely and wholly the work of God. So Ezekiel’s dry bones were made to live; nothing of that life came from themselves, but all from God. Thus it is in this spiritual life; we can contribute nothing by which to dispose ourselves to will what is truly good; we cannot so much as call Christ Lord, except by the Spirit ( 1Corinthians 12:3). If there is no life except through union with Christ, then until we are grafted into that blessed and bleeding vine, we cannot produce fruit to God. No natural power or principle in us can graft us into Christ, for faith is the grafting grace, and that faith is “the gift of God” (Ephesians. 2:8), the grace by which the just shall live (Habakkuk 2:4), and by which Christ dwells in our hearts (Ephesians. 3:17). Till then we are dead, and have no free-will to do good.

6    If regeneration, or recovery from the state of degeneration, is a resurrection, then fallen man has no free-will to do good.

It is obvious that regeneration is a resurrection from the following scriptures: “Verily, verily, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now has come, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and those who hear shall live” (John 5:25). “When we were dead in sins, (He) made us alive us together with Christ” and “has raised us up” etc. (Ephesians. 2:5-6). It requires as much power to raise, quicken, and make alive a sinner who is dead in trespasses and sins as it does to raise Christ from the dead (Ephesians. 1:19-20). To raise up Christ, and to work faith in us, requires “the exceeding greatness of His power” (Ephesians. 1:19). Here are three gradations: power, greatness of power, and as if that were too little, the apostle adds, “according to the working of His mighty power.” The original words imply not only a working, but an effectual force at work; such strength as may be found in the arms of valiant men who can do great exploits. No, it is more; it is beyond all this, it implies a power that can do all things, an omnipotent power. Surely, had there been an internal principle in us toward this great work, or any free-will in us to do good, then Paul would not have used those gradations, nor such emphatic, and significant expressions. This work of regeneration would not then have required the effectual, forcible power of the valiant arm of God; it is the same power that raised Christ from the dead, and by which He was declared to be the Son of God (Romans 1:4).

7    If moral persuasion is altogether insufficient of itself to recover man from his fallen state, then fallen man has no free-will to do good.

If moral persuasion could recover man, then faith would be an easy work, and it would not require such mighty power as has just been proved. Christ did more to raise Lazarus than morally persuade him to come out of the grave; when Christ said, “Lazarus, come forth” (John 11:43) a mighty power went along with the command, which gave effect to it. It is not enough to persuade a prisoner to come forth; his chains must be struck off, and the prison doors must be opened (Acts 12:6, 7, 10); and man is more than a mere prisoner; he is dead in sin, and so he must have a grace that makes him alive; which moral persuasion can never accomplish.

8    If Christ is All in all (Colossians 3:11) in matters of salvation, then man is nothing at all as to that work, and he does not have in himself a free-will to do good.

(a.) Christ’s work is to open the ear, because it is stopped up like the deaf adder’s ear is to the voice of the charmer (Psalms 58:4-5). Christ gives us the understanding ear; “He opens also their ear to discipline, and commands that they return from iniquity” (Job 36:10). See Psalms 40:6, and Isaiah 50:4; these passages, although spoken of Christ, are also good concerning His people.
(b.) Christ opens not only the ear, but also the heart (Acts 16:14). The Lord opened the heart of Lydia, she did not open her own heart; which she might have done if she had a free-will to do good. The key of the heart hangs at Christ’s belt. “He who opens and no man shuts; and shuts and no man opens” (Revelation 3:7). Moral persuasion will never prove effectual to open the heart of man.
(c.) Besides Christ there is no Savior (Isaiah 43:11; Hosea 13:4); but free-will Arminianism makes man a co-savior with Christ, as if the task was split between the grace of Christ and the will of man, and the latter divides the spoil with the former; indeed, as if the will of man deserved the greater share: for if Christ is only a monitor, and persuades us to do good, then man’s own will is the principal author of its own goodness; and he is the one who makes himself to differ from others, and who has something that he did not receive at conversion, something of which to boast before God. “Who makes you to differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did receive it, why do you glory, as if you had not received it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7). Persuasion leaves the admonished will to its own indifference, not changing it at all; so man becomes his own savior, or at least Christ is not the only Savior; how then is Christ All in all?

9    If fallen man must be drawn to goodness, then has he no free-will to do good.

It is proved from John 6:44 that moral persuasion will not bring a soul to Christ; that man cannot come of himself, but must be drawn: “No man can come to Me, except the Father which has sent Me draws him.” Drawing is what brings anything out of its course and channel by an external influence, and not from an innate power or internal principle. In Song of Solomon 1:4,40 the word is not “lead” but “draw;” in drawing there is less will and more power than in leading; and though God draws us strongly, yet He does it sweetly. As we are drawn, we do not have a free-will to do good, or else man only fell in his understanding, not in his will; yet are we volunteers (Psalms 110:3), a willing people; it is not that Christ finds us so, but he makes us so “in the day of His power,” and when He speaks to us with a strong hand (Isaiah 8:11). We are naturally haters of God, and at enmity with Him (Romans 1:30; 8:7). But the Spirit gives a new power to the soul, and then he acts and influences that power to do good; and so he draws a God-hater to love Him. This is more than a bare persuasion to a stone to be warm, for God takes away the “heart of stone,” and gives a “heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26). God the Spirit gives us the inclination to come, and he gives us the very power to come to Christ; and Christ finds nothing good in us (Romans 7:18).

10    If the soul of man is passive in effectual calling, then there is no free-will to do good in fallen man.

The spirit of grace is compared to a precious liquor that is infused in us; and the called and chosen of God are called vessels of mercy. “I will pour upon the house of David … the spirit of grace” etc. (Zechariah 12:10); “the vessels of mercy prepared for glory” (Romans 9:23). Now a vessel is a passive receiver of liquor that is poured into it. “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost” (Romans 5:5); that is, it is poured out and infused into God’s vessels of mercy. The atmosphere is passive when it receives light, and Adam’s body was passive when God inspired it with life. Although it was formed and organized, yet it was lifeless and breathless (Genesis 2:7). So the will of man (in respect to this first reception of grace) has neither concurrence nor cooperation active; the Lord is alone in that work. Apart from the influences of Divine grace, it is hell for anyone to be brought from hell; though it is also hell for us to stay there after God has opened our eyes and changed our hearts. Our corrupt nature neither can nor will contribute anything to destroy its own corruptions. In the first work of being made alive, the will does not move itself, but is moved by God. The will, as a creature, must obey its Creator; yet as a sinful depraved will, it does not willingly obey until it is “made willing” (Psalms 110:3). Man, and the will of man, while in an unregenerate state, may be compared to the tied-up colt in Mark 11:2 (tied and bound with sin’s chain). But when “the Lord has need of him,” and the “day of His power” has come, the sinner must then be loosed and let go.

11    Denying that grace, irresistible grace, special grace, is active in our conversion, is abominable; and the doctrine of free-will is a denial of this.

The advocates for free-will say, “If a man improves his naturals, God is bound to give him spirituals.” What is this but turning grace into debt? Saying that the reason one believes and another does not arises from the co-operation of the free-will of the one who believes, is to deny that special irresistible grace is specific to the elect. All of this is contrary to these scriptures: John 6:37, 45; Romans 8:14;  1 Corinthians 1:23-24; 1 John 4:13,41 and very many others. God’s dispensations towards His people are all of free grace. He enlivens whom He will (John 5:21). The heart of one sinner is caused to melt like wax before the fire and receive God’s seal, while the heart of another remains as immovable as marble, like a the rock that cannot be shaken; this is the work of God’s gracious dispensation. “He has mercy on whom He will have mercy, and he hardens whom He will harden” (Romans 9:18). The Spirit blows where it intends (John 3:8). God may bestow grace even with the first breath of life, and regenerate a babe as soon as it is born; this is what he did with John the Baptist who was filled with the Holy Ghost even from his mother’s womb (Luke 1:15). Others He may cast into the womb of the new birth at the very moment of leaving the world, at the eleventh, indeed, at the twelfth hour, just as he did with the thief on the cross. Oh, who can order the ways of grace, and set bounds to the spirit of God in its breathings on man!

12    Free-will brings with it so many absurdities that it cannot be accepted.

(a.) It makes man the cause of his own salvation.
(b.) It puts grace under man’s own power, not man’s will under the power of grace.
(c.) It robs God of the honor of making one man differ from another, and it ascribes it to man.
(d.) It allows man the liberty of boasting to God, saying, “God, I thank You that You gave me the power to will (yet You gave it to Judas as well as to me), but I thank myself for the Acts of my own willingness, since I receive from You no more than Judas did.”
(e.) It exempts the creature from the power of God, as if man, spider-like, could spin a thread out of his own bowels upon which to climb to Heaven.
(f.) It makes man the cause for why God wills this or that; so God must attend to the will of man, and not be infallible in His own decrees, or work all things according to the counsel of His own will (Ephesians. 1:11 Psalms 115:3).
(g.) Then the apostle James lied in saying that “every good gift” is from God (James 1:17); and Paul was also mistaken in Romans 9:11. He should have said, “It is of man who wills and runs,” and not, “Of God who shows mercy.”