BIBLE4.gifRomans 9 and 10 Human Freedom and Human Choice
Taken from The Differentiator Vol. 19 New Series June, 1957 No. 3

The late Alan Burns had a fine article in "Unsearchable Riches" in December, 1917, entitled "The Genesis of Evil." Most of his points were very reasonable, and I now reproduce some of them.

He made it clear that God is not free from the law of His nature. He cannot sin nor can He lie. He cannot deny the truth of His Being.

The fact that God permitted man to sin does not make God the source of sin. Nor was Adam free from the laws which governed his own nature. He was not compelled to sin against his will or against his wish, but sinned because he willed and wanted to sin. "Man is also free in the sense that in his moral choices he is free from external compulsion. If a power greater than his own had compelled his taking the forbidden fruit, then would Adam have been more sinned against, than sinning. But the cause of Adam's disobedience had its origin within, and impetus towards the transgression having an internal and not an external source."

When Adam was confronted by the alternative of obedience or transgression, there must have been an impetus, or tendency towards the evil act within. This tendency he seems to trace to Adam's temporary separation from God. "In the condition of 'separateness' the creature must sin, and when in the condition of 'union' he cannot sin. The universe out of God, comes under the disintegrating laws of its condition, and must collapse in physical and moral chaos. The universe in God, cannot degrade or deteriorate; the law of its condition forbids that possibility."

Regarding the relative "freedom" of angels and men, he says, "What they chose, was their choosing and not another's. What they did was their doing and not another's. But what they chose, and what they did, was because of what they were. Their actions and choices were in strict bondage to their natures. Though spirit-born (physically) they were severed from their Source, and their nature was determined by that condition of separation. God allowed the creature to sin, He did not compel him. Sin was the natural choice of the separate creature, it was not forced upon him."

This is quite in harmony with the idea that God operates through the Laws of Nature. For example, when a person dies, it might be said that God took him away. But to a very great extent, the length of the person's life would depend upon Natural Laws. The person who abstains from unnatural and "unclean" foods or devitalized foods, and gives Nature a chance, will normally live longer and live much more comfortably than one who despises the Laws of Nature.

Burns therefore argues that God must have foreseen both the possibility of sin, and its certainty, due to the withdrawal of God's Spirit. "Man cannot sin when God lays hold of him and he cannot but sin when God leaves go."

Unfortunately, however, other writers in the same publication took a very different view, condemning the will of human beings as something which is not worth reckoning, and of no account. For example, it has been stated that man's will is always opposed to God's will. Always? In everything? It has been claimed that it is useless to tell a person to assert his own will, that a human being is quite impotent to form any determination opposed to the soulish atmosphere in which he lives and moves. In other words, "He is not only a puppet, but a victim." The human will is said to be the compounded effect of complex causes, over none of which the person has any control. "Men do not really make up their minds. They are made up for them." What do we do when we make up our minds? "We simply open the doors to surrounding influences to see what is preponderant." That must mean, then, that human beings never use their conscience or make calculations, or make plans for the future. As regards Christian people, it is claimed that the Spirit of God alone, acting through revelation, should take the place of their will.

But in that case, would not another kind of "puppet" be produced?

"We allow our own will to modify God's. Crucify the flesh. Lean not on your own understanding. Reject the spirit of darkness." But in order to crucify the flesh, would we not require to be quite willing? And in order to reject the spirit of darkness, would we not use our own will? Resist the Devil and he will flee from you. But you cannot resist if you are unwilling.

Admittedly there are very many human beings whose will or wish is weak. They do not take life seriously, but are moved largely by their soulish feelings. Very few of such people ever become believers. Those who have become believers were once, in some degree, conscientious, or at least religiously inclined, or concerned regarding their future.

"No one can add a cubit to his stature. The will has little effect on the tangible part of our make-up." I do not think anyone would care to heighten himself or herself to the extent of twenty inches. New clothes are very dear, at least in Britain. Yet it must be admitted that one can do a very great deal for himself to improve his state of health and strength. "Where there is a will, there is a way." Many years ago I was set on to a course of deep breathing, stomach exercises, natural dieting, and proper chewing of all food. This required a strong will-power, but it was most successful. Anyone who has the will can co-operate with the Laws of Nature, which are God's Laws, but he must "make up his mind."

This verse has been seized upon as proving that the human will is quite ineffective. "Consequently, then, (it is) not of him who is willing (thelontos), nor of him who is running, but of the merciful God."

James Morison, D.D., declines to use the word "willing" here, and uses instead what he calls "the strong word wishing," in his fine book on Romans 9 and 10. Fervent wishing and eager straining do not bring God's mercy to the sinner. The whole passage is specially aimed at the Jew, who was assured that his great zeal for God had made him a permanent favourite of God's. It was utterly preposterous that Israel's God should shew mercy to outsiders who had never exhibited any great zeal or energy on behalf of Jehovah. And to this day Israel has never got over the profound shock caused by the salvation-operation being sent to the Gentiles (Acts 28:28).

No; it is not mere wishing, or ardent striving, that brings God's mercy. But if a human being finds he needs Christ, if he comes to the point where he sees that the first righteous act he can do is to admit he has no righteousness of his own, his wish to obtain mercy will be granted. No one has ever yet found Christ who did not want Him.

A question was asked in "Unsearchable Riches," page 285 of the year 1939, "Why Cain and Abel?" What caused the difference between them? "Two boys with identical heredity, environment, education, no neighbour's children to teach them evil at school. Cain rebels and is lost. Abel submits and is saved. What in Cain made him rebel? How did it get into him? Why was it not in Abel? What in Abel made him submit? How did it get into him? Why was it not in Cain?"

The answer given is that "God caused the difference between Cain and Abel. Abel believed God (Heb. 11:4), Cain was of the wicked one (1. John. 3:12), hence his acts were wicked, yet his brother's just." God wished to shew at the very beginning, what was in humanity, apart from Him. "There was nothing in Cain or Abel themselves which determined their fate." God's purpose to humble and elevate the race demanded that its first-born be branded a murderer, and go out from the presence of Jehovah. This is called a "simple and satisfactory solution" of the problem.

I hope I may be pardoned if I state that this solution is not satisfactory or simple. It has greatly upset many very devout souls. It would mean, in effect, that despite your excessive care in bringing up your son or daughter in the way of righteousness, God might make them murderers, and "all for His glory."

How do we know that Cain and Abel both had the same education? Any thinking person ought to come to the conclusion that there would probably be a vast difference between Cain's upbringing and that of Abel. When Cain was brought forth, Eve exclaimed, "I acquire a man—Jehovah!" The word "acquire" does not necessarily imply "works" on her part, though it does involve labour or effort. How long a time elapsed until Abel was born we know not. It might have been years. Yet it is quite possible that Eve for a time was so completely filled with the idea that Cain was the promised Messiah, that she so informed him of his important position. We must remember that she was only disillusioned when he murdered Abel, so far as we know.

Moreover, the bringing into the world of the first child must have been a tremendous event in Eve's life. One can imagine her making a great deal of her son. If ever she mentioned to him that he was the Saviour who was to come, that alone would have been sufficient to inflate him and produce an air of superiority. Had Cain actually been the Coming One, he would have been of much greater importance than his own parents.

Thus it is very probable that Cain was pampered by his parents for a time, as first-borns are often pampered. Now-a-days in Britain children are badly pampered in that in a tramcar or omnibus they possess the right to dictate to their elders that the latter must stand while the children may have seats. Such treatment only makes them selfish, just as the giving of votes to young people makes them feel important.

God did not make Cain wicked on purpose. He rebelled because he had not been properly disciplined in youth. Like most human beings, he had become far too top-heavy. God has put into operation certain natural laws which affect all mankind. One of these laws, well known to all of us, is that a spoilt child is likely to become troublesome or dangerous. But that does not mean that God has directly and deliberately made anyone an outcast or a murderer. A somewhat similar law of nature is that the child born out of wedlock does not have the same chance of growing up naturally as one who does not suffer the same stigma as he. Another law is that men may abuse the freedom which has been given them, and allow the law of atrophy to operate, so that they become quite hardened.

Could we say that a person who jumped over a precipice and was killed had been killed by God? Certainly not, because here God's law of nature is quite well known. God does not reverse His law of gravity in order to save a life.

In the case of Abel, there did not exist the tendency to become swollen-headed. His name is thought to signify plain "son." Probably he found his elder brother rather self-centred and imperious. And when Jehovah paid heed to Abel's offering, but not to that of Cain, would it not be quite in accord with human nature for Cain to wax very jealous, seeing that now he had obviously lost all claim to be a Messiah?

Let me now apply the argumentum ad hominem. If a sudden excessive fury arose in your heart, which resulted in your murdering a human being, would you have the temerity to claim that God had compelled you to commit the crime? God was deeply grieved when mankind became totally corrupt before the Flood, and repented that He had made mankind (Adam). He must have been equally grieved at the Fall, and again when Cain murdered his brother. But the god who compelled Cain to commit murder, and who then made any pretence of being deeply grieved must have been Satan.

Most human beings have considerable freedom of choice in this world. Believers possess great freedom, and God has prepared a great range of good works for us to perform. We call, choose and determine to carry through many things, without waiting for any leading. We may choose to go out of our way to help others. To one who is conscious that he should be doing an ideal thing, but does it not, to him it is a sin (Jas. 4:17). We are not to wait for grace to tell us what is good or ideal.

Human beings may spontaneously choose to draw near to God. If we draw near to Him, He will draw near to us. Why not try it? Sometimes during calamities such as earthquakes people do what they never did before, call upon a God.

Men have a certain degree of liberty, because God is absolute, just as an absolute monarch allows his subjects certain liberties. If humans had no freedom, they could not even sin. God has never yet chosen any human soul for salvation apart from his or her own choice.

In Acts 13:46 we find a wrong choosing. The jealous Jews of Antioch judged themselves unworthy of eonian life. Yet Paul and Barnabas gave them opportunity to hearken to the Word of God first. God's Design in history is bound up with the Law of Opportunity.

At Rom. 10:13 a free choice is offered to everyone. "For everyone, whosoever should be invoking the name of the Lord, shall be saved." As has often been urged, the whole of Romans 10 presupposes the freedom of man, just as Paul presupposes the Law of Opportunity (of which the Law of Atrophy is part), which exhibits not only man's freedom, but also the reaction of God's Sovereignty to man's use of freedom. We may even choose and consent to be vessels of honour; and that daily.

Even Pharaoh had his freedom, but he misused it, and accordingly God, using His Law of atrophy, left his heart stiffened.

Perhaps it is not commonly observed that in Romans 11:30-32, although Paul shews that some were unyielding while others were the opposite, these terms imply freedom of choice, and yet Paul goes on to say that "God locks all up together unto unyieldingness, that to all He should be merciful," just as though human beings had no freedom!

Behind all this is the doctrine that God has made men free to obey or to disobey. But every human being has come short. God, however, is responsible for the inevitability and universality of sin, even though man only sins by his own choice. These conditions in no wise baffle God, for He offers mercy to every sinner.

This would imply that behind the parallel passage ch. 9:19-29 there lies the doctrine that the obedient ones are the mercy-vessels, while the disobedient ones are the wrath vessels. The wrath of God is His ultimate reply to the unyieldingness of free men and women.

Would not one naturally think, that if God carried on, or endured, in much patience, wrath-vessels which were adapting themselves for lostness (Rom. 9:22), this implies that God afforded them opportunity after opportunity to yield to the message of clemency? Through the Law of Opportunity God moulds men according as they respond to His treatment. God in fact, pleads with every human being, in Christ, to believe, having determined to decide each one's eonian destiny by the way he reacts to God's offer.

No parable applies exactly at every point. The parable of the Potter can only be made to teach that God has decreed absolutely the fate of all men by ignoring the word patience, or long-suffering, in Rom. 9:22. Can it be, in very truth, that God is like man in regard to the virtue of patience? If God's Love is perfect, as it must be, why should not His Patience also be perfect? Can there exist within Him any imperfection?

Some years ago, in The Differentiator, I was obliged, out of honesty, to oppose the evil teaching that "Man goes the way that God desires; his steps have been pre-arranged and are all ordained of the Lord." In support of this Psalm 37:23 and Prov. 20:24 were quoted, as found in the King James 1611 version, "The steps of a (good) man are ordered by the Lord," and "Man's goings are of the Lord, how can a man then understand his own way?" Actually the first words in both verses state in the Hebrew, "From Jehovah the marchings (or, strides) of a sturdy one" (or bold, stout-hearted; one who prevails; Hebrew, geber). Nothing is here said about mankind in general. This serious blunder has been tacitly admitted, but the evil and dangerous teaching has not, after more than forty years, been repudiated.

Such teaching would deny that men and women have any choice of their own, even though those who have taught this shew plainly in their lives that they have made choices, and some very bad ones.

If human beings have no real choice in this life, if all their actions and movements have been meticulously planned by God, long before they were born, would it not necessarily follow that each child of Adam was doing only those things, and exactly those things, which God wished to be done? Would this not mean that they were all righteous? They would be keeping God's Law, and thus no charge could be brought against them. They could neither be coming short nor committing sin. Yet Romans 3:23 bluntly contradicts this frightful travesty of Divine Truth. All have sinned; therefore all are guilty, and the guilt must be their own, not God's.

Is it not just because we all have much freedom of choice and action that we do sin? God is in control of His own universe, but if He exercised very close control over all His human subjects, they could not wander away or sin. The lunatic confined within an asylum cannot do as much damage or work as much mischief as he might do were he quite free.

When the Lord told the throng that from the inside, out of the heart of men issued all sorts of wrong deeds and vices which make mankind common or demean mankind (Mark 7:21-23), He did not ascribe these evils to His God and Father. Nothing from the outside of the man, entering into him, can demean him (v. 15). Therefore it cannot be God who puts evil thoughts into mankind. Did I think that God puts evil thoughts into me, would I not be encouraged, nay driven on, to commit all sorts of evil, in obedience? Surely such an idea would be sheer blasphemy against the Holy Spirit! And does not John inform us that everything in the world, the over-desire of the flesh, and the over-desire of the eyes, and the make-believe of daily life, is not (out) of the Father, but is (out) of the world (1. John 2:16)?

If all our motives and actions are out of God, how can we be held responsible for them? Why should men be judged for doing exactly what God ordained they must do? Why, when we stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ, to be requited for any bad (and good) actions, should we suffer some loss on account of deeds which God compelled us to do?

Why should anyone confess sins, and be forgiven for sins, if they were forced upon him, so that he could not do otherwise? If we are all machines, robots, how can God pass judgment upon us, or condemn anything we do? Are the most inhuman brutes who ever tyrannized over mankind in reality robots manipulated by the God of Heaven? Will they be able, at the Great White Throne, to claim rewards for having done, all their lives, just what God wished them to do?

But enough of this sickening travesty. Anyone who teaches such evil doctrine must be an emissary of Satan, and ought to be shunned.

Meantime, let us who are partakers of God's Holy Spirit make every possible use of the freedom which we possess, in order to win a few others to delight in God's kindly goodwill ere the dark shadows of universal lawlessness cover the earth.

ALEXANDER THOMSON Last updated 6.2.2006