Objections to CALVINISM

as it is

by Randolph S. Foster



The Will


IN THE PRESENT CHAPTER we call attention more particularly to the Calvinian view of the will. This subject has been involved in former chapters, but it is of such importance as to demand separate and distinct treatment.


What, then–it immediately becomes an important question–is the Calvinistic view of the will, and of agency? This will be better understood by reference to their acknowledged standards.


God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty that it is neither forced, nor, by any absolute necessity of nature, determined to good or evil.


Man, in his state of innocency, had freedom and power to will and to do that which is good and well-pleasing to God; but yet, mutably, so that he might fall from it.


Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation; so as a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereto.


This chapter gives a very inadequate account d the Calvinistic doctrine upon the point in question until its terms are explained, and the views of authors are consulted. It will be perfectly understood by the following explanations.


In the Old and New Divinity Compared I read,


For if God does not possess such absolute control over his creatures, that he can govern them according to his pleasure, how could he have decreed anything unconditionally concerning them, since it might happen, that, in the exercise of their free agency, they would act contrary to the divine purpose?


If this paragraph means anything, it plainly means that unconditional decrees and free agency are irreconcilable; and, as all things are unconditionally decreed, according to the system there can, of course, be no free agency.


Thomas Aquinas, quoted with approval by Witsius, says,


It is essential to the first principle, that it can act without the assistance and influence of a prior agent; so that if the human will could produce any action, of which God was not author. the human will would have the nature of a first principle.


Nor does God only concur with the actions of second causes, when they act, but, also, influences the causes themselves to act …. Calvinists contend that, as nothing can ever come to pass without a cause, the acts of the will are never contingent, or without necessity–understanding by necessity, a necessity of consequence, or an infallible connection with something foregoing.


Calvinists contend, that a power in the will to determine Its own determinations, is either unmeaning, or supposes contrary to the first principles of philosophy, something to arise without a cause; that the idea of the soul exerting an act of choice, or preference, while, at the same time, the will is in a perfect equilibrium, or state of indifference, is full of absurdity and self-contradiction: and that, as nothing can ever come to pass without a cause, the acts of the will are never contingent, or without necessity–understanding, by necessity, a necessity of consequences, or an infallible connection with something foregoing. According to Calvinists, the liberty of a moral agent consists in the power of acting according to his choice; and these actions are free which are performed without any external compulsion or restraint, in consequence of the determinations of his own mind. The necessity of a man’s willing and acting in conformity to his apprehension and dispositions, is, in their opinion, fully consistent with all the liberty which can belong to a rational nature. The infinite Being necessarily wills and acts according to the absolute perfection of his nature, yet with the highest liberty. Angels necessarily will according to the perfection of their nature, yet with full liberty; for this sort of necessity is so far from interfering with liberty of will, that the perfection of the will’s liberty lies in such a necessity.


Neither does God only excite and predetermine the will of men to vicious actions, so far as they are actions, but he likewise so excites it, that it is not possible but, thus acted upon, it shall act.


Moreover, as a second cause cannot act, unless acted upon, and previously moved to act, by the predetermining influence of the first, so, in like manner, that influence of the first cause is so efficacious, as, that supposing it, the second cause cannot but act.


Every step of every individual character, receives as determinate a character from the hand of God, as every mile of a planet’s orbit, or every gust of wind, or every wave of the sea, or every particle of flying dust, or every rivulet of flowing water. This power of God knows no exceptions: it is absolute and unlimited. And, while it embraces the vast, it carries its resistless influences to all the minute and unnoticed diversities of existence. It reigns and operates through all the secrecies of the inner man. It gives birth to every purpose: it gives impulse to every desire: it gives shape and color to every conception; it wields an entire ascendancy over every attribute of the mind: and the will, and the fancy, and the understanding, with all the countless variety of their hidden and fugitive operations, are submitted to it. It gives movement and direction through every one point of our pilgrimage. At no moment of time does it abandon us. It follows us to the hour of death, and it carries us to our place, and to our everlasting destiny in the regions beyond it.


Says Mr. Dick,


A man chooses what appears to be good, and he chooses it necessarily, in this sense, that he could not do otherwise. The object of every volition is to please himself; and to suppose a man to have any other object, that is, to will anything that does not please him in itself, or in its circumstances, is absurd: it is to suppose him to will and not to will at the same time. He is perfectly voluntary in his choice; but his willingness is the consequence of the view, which his mind takes of the object presented to it, or of his prevailing disposition.


Those actions are free which are the effect of volition. In whatever manner the state of mind which gave rise to the volition has been produced, the liberty of the agent is neither greater nor less. It is the will alone which is to be considered, and not the means by which it has been determined. If God foreordained certain actions, and placed men in such circumstances that the actions would certainly take place, agreeably to the laws of the mind, men are, nevertheless, moral agents, because they act voluntarily, and are responsible for the actions which consent has made their own. Liberty does not consist in the power of acting or not acting, but in acting from choice. The choice is determined by something in the mind itself, or by something external influencing the mind; but, whatever is the cause, the choice makes the action free, and the agent accountable. If this definition of liberty be admitted, you will perceive that it is possible to reconcile the freedom of the will with absolute decrees; but we have not got rid of every difficulty. By this theory, human actions appear to be as necessary as the motions of matter, according to the laws of gravitation and attraction: and man seems to be a machine, conscious of his movements, and consenting to them, but impelled by something different from himself.


If anything further should be esteemed necessary upon this point, a few selections from Dr. Emmons, a distinguished divine of New England, and author of an elaborate work on theology, may supply the demand. He says,


Since the Scriptures ascribe all the actions of men to God, as well as to themselves, we may justly conclude that the divine agency is as much concerned in the bad as their good actions. Many are disposed to make a distinction here, and to ascribe only the good actions of men to the divine agency, while they ascribe their bad ones to the divine permission. But there appears no ground for this distinction in Scripture or reason. Men are no more capable of acting independently of God in one instance than another. If they need any kind or degree of divine agency in doing good, they need precisely the same kind and degree of divine agency in doing evil.


But there was no possible way in which he could dispose them to act right or wrong, but only by producing right or wrong volitions in their hearts. And if he produced their bad as well as good volitions, then his agency was concerned in precisely the same manner in their wrong as in their right actions. His agency making them act, necessarily connects his agency and theirs together, and lays a solid foundation for ascribing their actions either to him or them, or to both.


But, since mind cannot act any more than matter can move, without a divine agency, it is absurd to suppose that men can be left to the freedom of their own will, to act or not to act, independently of divine influence. There must, therefore, be the exercise of divine agency in every human action.


By this invisible agency upon the minds, he governs all their views, all their thoughts, all their determinations, and all their volitions, just as he pleases, and just according to his secret will, which they neither know beforehand, nor can resist, evade, or frustrate.


The plain and obvious meaning of the words freedom and libel; in common speech, is the power, opportunity, or advantage that anyone has to do as he pleases; or, in other words, his being free from hindrances or impediments in the way of doing or conducting in any respect as he wills. And the contrary to liberty, whatever name we call that by, is a person’s being hindered or unable to conduct as he will, or being necessitated to do otherwise.


But one thing more I would observe, concerning what is vulgarly called liberty, namely, that power and opportunity for one to do and conduct as he will, or according to his choice, is all that is meant by it, without taking into the meaning of the word anything of the cause of that choice, or at all considering how the person came to have such a volition–whether it was caused by some external motive, or internal, habitual bias–whether it was determined by some internal, antecedent volition, or whether it happened without a cause–whether it was necessarily connected with something foregoing, or not connected. Let the person come by his choice any how, yet, if he is able, and there is nothing in the way to hinder his pursuing and executing his will, the man is perfectly free, according to the primary and common notion of freedom.


That every act of the will has some cause, and, consequently, has a necessary connection with its cause, and so is necessary, a necessity of connection and consequence is evident by this, that every act of the will whatsoever is excited by some motive.


But if every act of the will is excited by a motive, then that motive is the cause of the act. If the acts of the will are excited by motives, the motives are the cause of their being excited, or, what is the same thing, the cause of their existence. And if so the existence of the acts of the will is properly the effects of their motives. Motives do nothing, as motives or inducements, but by their influence; and so much as is done by their influence is the effect of them. For that is the motive of an effect, something that is brought to pass by the influence of something else. And if volitions are properly the effects of motives, then they are necessarily connected with their motives–every effect and event being, as was proved before, necessarily connected with that which is the proper ground and reason of its existence. Thus it is manifest, that volition is necessary, and is not from any self-determining power in the will; the volition which is caused by previous motive and inducement, is not caused by the will exercising a sovereign power over itself, to cause, determine, and excite volitions in itself.


The view given in this quotation, is the view elaborately sustained in Mr. Edwards’ celebrated work on the will. The whole work is based, for the defense of this view, against Arminian notions of liberty. It will not be necessary to quote more largely upon this point, as our simple object, in these quotations, is to learn the view of the authors referred to, without examining their particular merits.


The liberty of a moral agent consists in the power of acting according to his choice; and those actions are free which are performed without any external compulsion or restraint in consequence of the determination of his own mind.


The various changes upon matter, which are the events of the natural world, arise from a succession of operations, every one of which, being the effect of something previous, becomes, in its turn, the cause of something which follows. The particular determinations of mind, which may be considered as events arising in the moral world, have their causes, also, which we are accustomed to call motives, that is, inducements to act in a particular manner, which arise from the objects presented to the mind, and the views of those objects which the mind entertains. The causes of the events in the natural world are efficient causes. which act upon matter; the causes of events in the moral world are final causes, with reference to which the mind, in which the action originates, proceeds voluntarily and deliberately to put forth its own powers. But the direction of the action toward its final cause is not less certain, than the direction of the motion produced in an inert, passive substance, by the form impressed upon it, which is the efficient cause of the motion.


It is essential to a soul to have a moral disposition, good or bad, or a mixture of both; and according to what is the prevailing moral disposition of the soul must be the moral actings of the will. [Query: How did a holy nature make an unholy volition?] Hence, there is a great difference in regard to the freedom of the will in the different states of man. In the state of innocence, the natural inclination of man’s will was only to good; but it was liable to change through the influence of temptations, and, therefore, free to choose evil. In his natural corrupt state, man freely chooses evil; and he cannot do otherwise, being under bondage of sin. In the state of grace, he has a free will, partly to good and partly to evil. In this state there is a mixture of two opposite moral dispositions; and as sometimes the one and sometimes the other prevails, so the will sometimes chooses that which is good, and sometimes that which is evil.


From the above quotations we make the following deductions:


  1. Calvinists believe that every volition, or choice, is the necessary result of an influence exerted upon the mind, through the agency of motives. In other words, they believe that such is the constitution of the human mind, that it cannot will at all without a motive, and that, when it does will, it cannot will otherwise under the mind.


  1. They believe that free agency consists, not in the power to originate and govern volitions, but in the power one has to do according to his volitions.


We insist that this view of the subject involves fatalism, and is entirely inconsistent with the flee agency of man. And this must appear with the slightest examination.


The doctrine is, that, when a man makes a choice, or puts forth an exercise of will, he cannot, under the circumstances, make any other choice; the motives presented to his mind are such as to necessitate this particular choice, and render any other impossible. Now, is it not manifest, that this renders man the victim of inexorable necessity. What he chooses he is coerced to choose, without the possibility of an opposite choice, by irresistible power. What matters it, though you say he acts from choice, or voluntarily, and is, therefore, free? Is it not certain that choice itself is forced upon him, and, hence, that he is not free


I cannot do better here, than to quote from the distinguished Dr. Beecher:


Choice, in its very nature, implies the possibility of a different or contrary action that which is made. There is always an alternative to that which the mind decides on, with the consciousness of choosing either. In the simplest form of alternative, is to choose or not to choose in a given way; but in most cases, the alternatives lie between two or many objects of choice presented to the mind; and, if you deny to mind this alternative power–if you insist that by a constitution anterior to choice, the nature of natural cause to its effect, the choice which takes place can come, and cannot but come, into being, and that none other than this can, by any possibility, exist, you have as perfect a fatality of choice as ever Pagan, or Atheist, or Antinomian, conceived. The question of free will is not whether man chooses–this is notorious–none deny it; but whether his choice is free, as opposed to a fatal necessity–as opposed to the laws of instinct and natural causation–whether it is the act of a mind so qualified for choice, as to decide between alternatives, uncaused by the energy of a natural cause to its effect whether it is the act of an agent, who might have abstained from the choice he made, and made one which he did not. To speak of a choice as being free, which is produced by the laws of natural necessity, and which cannot but be when and what it is–more, that the effects of natural causes can govern the time, and manner, and qualities of their being–is a perversion of language.


To illustrate the fatality of an agency, in which choice is the unavoidable effect of a natural, constitutional, and coercive causation, let us suppose an extended manufactory, all whose wheels, like those in Ezekiel’s vision, were inspired with intelligence and instinct with life–some crying holy! holy! as they rolled, and others aloud blaspheming God–all voluntary in their praises and blasphemies; but the volitions, like the motions of the wheels themselves, produced by the great water-wheel and the various bands, which kept the motion, and the adoration, and the blasphemy going: how much accountability would attach to these praises and blasphemies produced by the laws of waterpower? and what would it avail to say, as a reason for justifying God in punishing these blasphemies, Oh, but they are free, they are voluntary, they choose to blaspheme? Truly, indeed, they blaspheme voluntarily; but their choice to do so is necessary in the same sense that the motion of the great wheel, which the water, by the power of gravity, turns, is necessary, and just as destitute of accountability.


Choice, without the possibility of other or contrary choice, is the immemorial doctrine of fatalism; the theory of choice, that it is what it is by a natural, constitu tional necessity, and that a man cannot help choosing what he does choose, and can by no possibility choose otherwise, is the doctrine of fatalism in all its forms.


So writes one of the most venerable and learned living Presbyterian ministers, who has the boldness to think and speak his own sentiments. He sustains this view with an amount of learning worthy of himself and the subject.


The same point has been thus stated by Jouffroy, a distinguished French writer:


The principal propositions of the supporters of this system, are as follows: in the first place, they assert as a fact, that every volition has a motive; in the second place, they say that if the motive which acts upon the will is a simple and single one, the motive will necessarily determine it; but if there are several motives operating at the same time, the strongest will determine it. Such, gentlemen, is the argument of the friends of this system. (p. 96.)


I have not thought it necessary, in this connection, to refer to the use of a variety of terms commonly incorporated in the controversy about the will. The only point we have deemed important to particularize, we find in the proposition, that “motives are causes of which volitions are effects.” Upon this simple proposition, the whole controversy turns. If it is true, the Calvinian view of the will is true. If it is false, the Calvinian view of the will is false. It forms the direct issue.


It is presumed upon this point there will be no quibbling–no equivocation. We have already shown that the view thus stated, results consequentially from the doctrine of decrees, by showing that, if God decreed whatsoever comes to pass, he must have decreed what each distinct volition should be; and his decree being the necessity or necessitating cause of the thing decreed, it was, therefore, the cause of volitions. This we have shown before consequentially; and now, from a more direct examination of the doctrine of will, we learn that what was then a logical deduction, is, in fact, a matter of faith; the volition is determined by the force of motives–motives are arranged by the providence of God and so the decree of God, with respect to volitions, is executed, or brought about by his providence.


This view is given as the most moderate and least objectionable. Many Calvinists have, indeed, asserted that volitions are produced by the direct agency of God, and it might be shown that such is a legitimate consequence of other points of the system; but we select this as the explanation of the more moderate school, and the now prevailing sentiment of Calvinistic Churches.


Calvinists become angry with us when we accuse them of denying the free agency of man. Now, that there may be no mistake here, we call attention to this point. Calvinists do believe in free agency, according to their definition: that is, “the power or opportunity anyone has to do as he pleases.” They do believe that a man can do as he pleases when he is not prevented; but they do not believe that a man has any control over his choices–they do not believe that he is able to choose differently from what he does–they do not think that such a power is necessary to constitute free agency. Now, we shall show that all the consequences of sheer fatalism are included in their doctrine and definition of freedom; that, though they believe in what they are pleased to call free agency, yet they do not, in fact, include the idea of actual liberty therein, but leave it embarrassed with inexorable necessity.


That I have stated their views in the least objectionable form, in the most moderate tone, I think must be admitted by all candid judges: it only remains, therefore, that I proceed to point out consequences, and then it will be for my readers to decide, whether the consequences thus deduced do actually flow or not.


  1. And, first, I object to this doctrine of the will, that it is directly opposed to the consciousness of mankind. Here, again, I will employ the language of the venerable Dr. Beecher:


Of nothing are men more thoroughly informed, or more competent to judge unerringly, than in respect to their voluntary action, as coerced or free. Testimony may mislead, and the sense, by disease, may deceive, but consciousness is the end of all controversy; its evidence cannot be increased, and, if it be distrusted, there is no alternative but universal skepticism. Our consciousness of the mode of mental action in choice, as uncoerced and free, equals our consciousness of existence itself; and the man who doubts either, gives indications of needing medical treatment, instead of argument. When a man does wrong, and then reflects upon the act, he feels that he was free, and is responsible; and so when he looks forward to a future action.


And because this consciousness is in men, you never can reason them out of a sense of their accountability. Many have tried it, but none have effectually, or for any length of time, succeeded; and the reason is plain, there is nothing which the mind is more conscious of, than the fact of its own voluntary action with the power of acting right or wrong: the mind sees, and knows, and regrets, when it has done wrong. Take away this consciousness, and there is no remorse. You cannot produce remorse, as long as a man feels that his act was not his own–that it was not voluntary, but the effect of compulsion: he may dread the consequences, but you never can make him feel remorse for the act on its own account. This is the reason why men who have reasoned away the existence of God, and argued to prove that the soul is nothing but matter, know, as soon as they reflect, that all their reasoning is false. There is a lamp within they cannot extinguish; and, after all their metaphysics, they are conscious that they act freely, and that there is a God to whom they are accountable; and hence it is, that when they cross the ocean, and a storm comes on, and they expect to go to the bottom, they begin straightway to pray to God and confess their sins.


The natural impossibility of choosing otherwise than we do choose, is contrary, then, not only to the common sense and intuitive perceptions of men, but contrary to their internal consciousness. There is a deep and universal consciousness in all men, as to the freedom of choice; and in denying this, you reverse God’s constitution of man–you assume that God gave a deceptive constitution to mind, or a deceptive consciousness.


Upon this point, Mahan, in his excellent little work on the will–a complete refutation of Edwards–says,


We may pile demonstration upon demonstration in favor of the doctrine of necessity, still, as the mind falls back upon the simultaneous affirmations of its own intelligence, it finds, in the depths of its inner being, a higher demonstration of the fact, that that doctrine is, and must be, false–that man is not the agent which that doctrine affirms him to be.


It is still more elegantly expressed by Jouffroy: he says,


If there is one familiar feeling of which we are distinctly and vividly conscious, it surely is that which we experience when we make a choice. Whatever the force of the motive which we obey, we yet perceive a wide distinction between the influence of this motive and anything which can be called constraint. Indeed, we feel distinctly that in yielding to this motive, that is to say, in resolving in conformity with it we are entirely able not to form this resolve. If, for instance, when standing at a window, I determine not to throw myself into the street, I feel that it depends wholly upon myself to form an opposite determination. Only, I say, I should then be a fool; and being rational, I remain where I am. But that I am free to be a fool and to throw myself down, is to me most evident.


If any of my audience are capable of confounding in their minds the fact that a billiard ball on a table is put in motion by a stroke with the fact that a volition is produced in my mind when I seek to know what is my reasonable course of conduct, and think I discover it–if there are any here who can see a similarity between the action of one ball on another and the influence of a motive on my volition, then have I nothing more to say. But no one can imagine a similarity between the two; at least, no one who has not taken sides on the question and given up his mind to some system, of which it consequence that some necessity must control our volition and acts can confound two facts in their nature so dissimilar as the action of one ball upon another and the influence of a motive on the determinations of my will. The whole question–and I beg you again to remark it depends upon the fact, whether you know that the influence which the motive exercises over the will is a constraining force or not. For myself, I say, that my inward feeling answers in the negative, and that, under the influence of all motives, I retain, in every case, a distinct consciousness of a power of acting in opposition to what they advise and direct.


When I attempt thus to bring argument for the sake of proving that we are free, and that motives do not exercise a controlling force over us, I feel as uncomfortable as if l were answering one who should deny our power of moving or walking. To employ argument in refuting such an opinion, seems like some game of logic. For I have to oppose to this opinion a plain, decisive fact–a fact the consciousness of which I can never lose, and which is in accordance with common forms of speech in all languages, with the universal faith, and with the established practices of mankind. And I smile to think that when I can utterly destroy the system of necessity by merely bringing it in conflict with this fact, I should be seeking superfluous trains of reasoning to oppose it with.


This fact, which we cannot escape from, is one which consciousness bears witness to, when placed under the influence of the strongest possible motive, say, self-preservation. I feel, distinctly, that it depends upon myself, and only upon myself, whether I shall yield to or resist this motive, and do or refrain from what it recommends. I can conceive, indeed, that a man may deny this evident fact; for to what length of delusion will not the spirit of theory and system carry us? But I will ask him, am I not justified in not admitting this peculiar opinion of a small body of men, when I see that even they act and speak as if they agreed in my opinion–when I see the most logical among them form a scheme of ethics, and give rules for conduct–when I find in every tongue the words, right and wrong, punishment and reward, merit and demerit–when the whole human race agree in being indignant against him who does wrong, and in admiring him who does right–when, indeed, there is not an event in human life which does not imply, necessarily, and in a thousand different ways, this very freedom of will of which I feel so sensibly and deeply conscious? I have certainly some right to feel strengthened in my opinion by so many testimonies to its truth, and by its perfect accordance with what I see about me. And were there no stronger objections against the doctrine which denies human freedom, than this universal contradiction which it offers to all human belief, conduct, and language, to all judgments and feelings, it would, even then, be more completely answered than it deserves.


Thus we see that the Calvinian view of the will is opposed to the consciousness of mankind. When it is stated, every man feels within himself the consciousness that it is false–that it is not in accordance with his constitution. It may be mystified and drowned with bewildering terms, and encumbered with intricate speculations, and burdened with senseless distinctions, but deep beneath it all, the plain man and the scholar, all men alike, feel a consciousness that the will is essentially free–that volitions are not necessitated. This consciousness of mankind is not only detected by each man in his own bosom, but it is outwardly manifested and expressed, involuntarily and, in a great variety of ways, constantly by others; as, for instance, in the universal conviction of mankind, that their former course of conduct might have been different from what is. I will venture to affirm, that there is not a person on earth who has not this conviction resting upon his mind in respect to his own past life. It is important to analyze this conviction, in order to mark distinctly its bearing upon our present inquiries. This conviction is not the belief, that, if our circumstances had been different, we might have acted differently from what we did; but a firm persuasion, that, under precisely the same circumstances, our volition and act might have been the precise contrary of what they were. This conviction, that, without any change of circumstances, our past course of life might have been different from what it was, rests upon every mind on earth, in which the remembrance of the past dwells. Now this universal conviction is totally false–and when, then, can consciousness be trusted?–if the doctrine of necessity is true. The doctrine of the liberty of the will must be true, or the universal intelligence is a perpetual falsehood.


In reference to all deliberate determinations of the will in time past, the remembrance of them is attended with a consciousness the most positive, that, in the same identical circumstances, determinations precisely opposite might have been originated. Let anyone recall any such determination, and the consciousness of a power to have determined differently, will be just as distinctly recalled as the act itself. He cannot be more sure that he has willed at all, than he will be that he might have willed differently. But all these affirmations of consciousness are false, if the doctrine of liberty is not true.


The existence of such a consciousness is further evinced in the condemnation or approbation we exercise with respect to other men, in view of their determinations and acts. These are always accompanied with the conviction, arising from the consciousness of human freedom, that they might, under the circumstances, have acted and determined differently. And if this conviction could be displaced, we would no more condemn or approve them than we do an avalanche or earthquake, rain or sunshine.


But, further: not only with respect to the past, but with respect to the present, also, we are now distinctly conscious, that, with regard to the particular object submitted to our minds, under the identical circumstances existing, any one of a number of different determinations is equally or as certainly possible. Every man is as conscious of this as he is of his existence.


  1. I object to this doctrine of the will, further, that it involves sheer fatalism–universal necessity. This point is thus expressed by Mahan: If this doctrine is true, it is demonstrably evident, that in no instance, real or supposable, have men any power whatever, to will or to act differently from what they do. The connection between the determinations of the will and their consequents, external and internal, is absolutely necessary. Constituted as I now am, if I will, for example, a particular motion of my hand or arm, no other movement, in the circumstances, was possible, and this movement could not but take place. The same holds true of all consequents, external or internal of all acts of the will. Let us now suppose that these acts of the will are themselves the necessary consequents of the circumstances in which they originate. In what conceivable sense, then, have men, in the circumstances in which Providence places them, power either to will or to act differently from what they do? Here, then, is absolute, universal necessity. The motive must produce the volition; the volition must produce the act; and all the circumstances taken together constitute the motive.


Well, now, the creature can have no control of the motives: that is, he cannot prearrange motives to produce in him certain volitions; because, to determine to make such a prearrangement is a volition, and this volition cannot take place without a motive to produce it; so he is utterly, and without mitigation, doomed to the despotism of such motives as exist, bringing in their train, as cause produces effects, other motives, and these producing their legitimate exercises of will. Fate runs through all. Every determination and act is immediately connected with a cause foregoing, which produces it as a necessary effect.


  1. It follows from this system, not only that all things are necessary, but, also, that each individual thing is the best possible in its place and relations. God is the first mover–the first link in this endless chain of causation. From him, ultimately, all motion proceeds. All volitions and acts, therefore, have for their ultimate cause infinite Wisdom. All that has been, all that is, all that will be, are connected by an absolute necessity with the same great Source. There may be a million intermediate, transmitting inks, but, through all, they trace back to the First Cause. It would be the height of absurdity to suppose it possible for anything to be different from what it is, or to suppose that any change could make anything better than what it is; for all that is, is by absolute necessity; and all that is, is just what and when infinite Wisdom has made it and disposed of it. No difference what it is, therefore–whether murder, incest, idolatry, or what not–it is the best thing in that place, or the great First Cause is at fault. If that which we call evil in reality be evil, then it must be both necessary evil, and evil having its origin in infinite Wisdom. It is vain to say that man is the agent, in the strict acceptation of the word; he is–he can be no more than one of the links through which causation is traced back to God. Is not this fearful?


  1. If this doctrine be true, man cannot be responsible or accountable for either his volitions or acts–cannot be subject of praise or blame. God himself is the only responsible being in the universe, as all causation–agency proper–terminates in him. This is so manifest, it is questionable whether any man, in the possession of his reason, can sincerely doubt it. The idea of obligation, of merit and demerit, and or the consequent propriety of rewards and punishments, are chimeras. To conceive of a being deserving praise or blame for volitions or actions, which occurred under circumstances in which none other were possible, and in which these could not possibly but be, is absolutely impossible. The human mind has not power to entertain such a conception. Let anyone undertake it, and he will find it as impossible as to conceive of the annihilation of space, or of an event occurring without a cause. Human intelligence, as the consciousness of everyone of my readers will attest, is incapable of affirming such a contradiction.


The ground of blameworthiness is not only the perception of the difference between right and wrong, and the conviction that the right ought to be done, but the possession of a power to do the right and refrain from the wrong. But if every volition is fixed by absolute necessity, then neither can the individual be supposed to have power to do otherwise than he actually does, nor, all things considered, can it be supposed there could have been, at that present moment any other volition. The volition is fixed, and fixed by infinite Wisdom. We cannot escape from this difficulty, by perpetually ringing the changes of, “He can if he will,” “he could if he would;” the thing is, he cannot will–he has no power competent to do the very thing which is required, and, hence, cannot be responsible.


Shall it be said, “that, in looking for the ground of accountability, men never go beyond the fact of voluntariness; they look not for the cause of volitions themselves; if the deed, whether good or evil, be voluntary, that satisfies? This is, no doubt, true; we are satisfied that men are accountable for acts which are voluntary; but this is because all men include, unfailingly, both in their theory and consciousness, the supposition of powers of agency unhindered and uncoerced by any fatal necessity. But convince them that choice is an effect, over which mind has no more control than over drops of rain, and the common sense of the world would revolt against the accountability of choice, merely because it was choice.” The view of the will here offered, is, beyond all question, as diametrically opposed to accountability as it is to freedom; indeed, by the common consent of mankind–a consent founded in consciousness itself–these must stand or fall together, and cannot exist separately.


  1. But if the foregoing be true, then men cannot be required to do differently from what they do; for to require this, is to require an absolute impossibility. Any law or lawgiver making such requirement, is the perfection of tyranny. There can be no cruelty, no oppression, more unreasonable, more unjust, than this. To imagine it, is blasphemously to cast inconceivable odium on the character of God. Dr. Beecher has well said upon this point,


God requires of his subjects only conformity to himself–to his own moral excellencies—but he affirms of no obligation on himself to work impossibilities; and does he impose obligations on his subjects which he himself refuses to assume? He does not regard it as an excellence in himself to work impossibilities; does he command it as a virtue in his subjects? He has no desire to work impossibilities himself why should he desire it in his creatures? He has never tried, and never will m;, to work an impossibility; and why should he command his creature to do what he neither desires nor try to accomplish? He cannot work impossibilities; and how can it be thought that he will require of his creatures that which he himself cannot do?


Such is one of the fearful consequences to which this scheme inevitably leads. Either God cannot require men to do differently from what they do, and, if this be so, then he does not require them to obey his laws; for these laws enjoin a different conduct: or if God does require men to do differently, then he requires them to do what is absolutely impossible–to do what Omnipotence cannot do–nay, to resist and overcome Omnipotence; for it is the causation emanating from Omnipotence which he is required to resist. Can a God of justice make such a requisition as this?


But if such a requirement cannot be made–if the idea is startling blasphemy–and who can think it is less–what must be our amazement to learn, not only that such requirements are made, but additionally for non compliance, the wretch, who may be found guilty, is to be punished in hell throughout an endless eternity! Think of such a doom, and answer yourself the question, can God be a monster capable of such appalling ferocity? The devil that would torment his victim in flames through millions of years, for not annihilating the universe, with only power sufficient to crash a moth, would be the impersonation of mercy and loveliness compared with such a being as this.


If this doctrine is true, at the final judgment the conscience and intelligence of the universe must be on the side of the condemned. Suppose that when the conduct of the wicked shall be revealed at that day, another fact shall stand out with equal conspicuousness, namely, that God himself had placed these beings where but one course of conduct was open to them, and that course they could not but pursue–namely, the course which they did pursue–and that, having pursued this course, the only one possible, they are now to be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of God and the glory of his power, must not the intelligence of the universe pronounce such a sentence unjust? Yet all this must be true, or the necessity false. Who can believe that the pillars of God’s eternal government rest upon such a doctrine? A resort to blank Atheism, to hopeless death, would be a refuge from an existence under the inconceivable misrule and tormenting despotism of such a God.


  1. I object, further, if this doctrine be true, probation is an infinite absurdity. We might, with the same propriety, represent the specimens in the laboratory; of the chemist as on probation, as men, if their actions are the necessary result of the circumstances in which Omnipotence has placed them. What must intelligent beings think of probation for a state of eternal retribution, based on such principles? Is it not a mocked?


7.1 object, if this doctrine be true, all the exhortations and persuasions which call upon the man to bestir himself to think, to plan, to act–are inconsistent and absurd. In all such persuasions, the man is urged to will or put forth volitions as if he were the author or determiner of volitions. It may be replied, that the man does will, that the volitions are his volitions. But, allowing them to be his in a certain sense, the point of difficulty is here: they are made his, by being wrought in him as a passive subject; they are not his in the sense of his being their prime cause. You exhort and persuade him to arouse himself to activity; but what is his real condition according to this system? The exhortations and persuasions do themselves contain the motive power; and instead of arousing himself to action–the thing exhorted–he is absolutely and necessarily passive under the motive you present. If he does not act, he is not at fault, but the motive; the defect is in the motive, not in the man. He cannot act without a sufficient motive; and that he does not act, is proof that the motive is not sufficient. To blame him, therefore, is to blame him for not performing an impossibility. Whether he be moved or not as truly and as absolutely depends upon the motives you present, as the removing of any material mass depends upon the power or labor applied. When I bring motives before the minds of my fellow-beings in the proper relation, the volition is necessarily produced; but let me not forget, that, in bringing these motives, I put forth volitions and that, of course–according to the system–I am myself moved under the necessity of some antecedent motive. My persuasions and exhortations are necessary sequents, as well as necessary antecedents. The water must run through the water course; the wheel must turn under the force of the current. I must exhort and persuade when motives determine me; the mind I address must yield, when the motives are properly selected and applied to it? Was there ever a more admirable system of fatalism than this? All volitions and actions, linked together in one endless chain of causation, reaching back to the first great Mover, as the sole and only cause? The connection between the volition and the strongest motive, is as absolute and necessary as the connection between any cause and its effect. The movements of mind, as a consequence of this system, are as absolutely fixed and rigidly necessary, as the movements of the material creation under the forces which cause its changes. How utterly absurd, therefore, to address exhortations, advices, and reproofs to men, with respect to their purposes and actions! Just with the same propriety might we urge and entreat the water wheel to reverse its motion, and roll round against the current–the nerve to convey no sensation, under the most painful operation–the eye to look upon the full, blazing sun, without inconvenience–the earth itself to stand still, when Omnipotence urges it forward the advice would be as proper in one case as the other. If it is manifestly absurd in the latter case, it is no more so than in the former. A mind, every one of whose determinations is absolutely fixed by the force of motives, can no more of itself make different determinations, than matter can, of itself, act contrary to the force which impels it. Therefore, if causation is in the motive, so is responsibility; and men would act wisely no more to exhort, advise, or reprove each other, but address themselves to the consideration alone of external causes. But is this so? Is man the thing here represented? The mere sport of outward influence, without power, without agency? He is, or Calvinism is radically false.


  1. I object, further, to this doctrine, in the language of Tappan,


It is another consequence, that there can be nothing evil in itself. If infinite wisdom and goodness are the highest form of moral perfection, as, indeed, their very names imply, then all the necessary consequences of these just partake of their nature. Infinite wisdom and goodness, as principles, can only envelop parts of themselves. It would be the destruction of logic to deny this. It would annihilate every conclusion that has ever been drawn. If it be said, that infinite Wisdom has promulgated a law which defines clearly what is essentially right, and that it is a fact that volitions do transgress this law, still this cannot affect what is said above. The promulgation of the law was but a necessary development of infinite Wisdom; and the volition which transgresses it, is a development of the same nature. If this seems contradictory, I cannot help it. It is drawn from the system, and the system alone is responsible for its conclusions.


  1. I object to the doctrine, that it is as fatal to freedom in the divine as well as the human mind. I cannot better express this point than by substituting the language of Fisk:


It is argued, that to maintain the doctrine of spontaneous volition, independent of the control of motives, involves the absurdity, that “our volitions are excited without any intelligent reason whatever, and as the effect, consequently, of nothing better than a mere brute or senseless mechanism.” Now, if this has any bearing on the question, it relates not to human mind and human volitions merely, but to mind in general, and must apply to the divine mine. The same may be said, in fact, of most of the arguments that are brought in favor of this doctrine. Calvinists are convinced of this; and, hence, this, also, is a part of their creed. It was defended by Edwards, and is thus avowed by Upham in his system of Mental Philosophy. Speaking of the control of motives he says: “Our condition, in this respect, seems to be essentially the same with that of the supreme Being himself; he is inevitably governed in all his doings, by what in the great range of events, is wisest and best.” Thus, the divine Being is, according to this theory, and by the express showing of the leading advocates of the theory, “inevitably” made a subordinate to a superior. It is believed there is no avoiding this conclusion; and, what then? Why, then, the doctrine makes God a necessary agent, and leads to Atheism! It is nearly, if not exactly, the same as the old heathen doctrine of fate. The ancient heathen supposed that Jupiter himself, the omnipotent father of the gods and men, must yield to fate. Modern Christians teach that there is a certain fitness of things, certain constitutional relations, existing independent of the divine will, which God himself cannot supersede, but to which he must yield. How does this sink at once both the natural and moral perfections of God! The exercises of his wisdom and goodness, are nothing more than the result of certain fixed and irresistible influences. Fixed, not by God himself, for that would be to give up the doctrine; for, in that case, in the order of cause and effect, the divine mind must have acted without control of motives, if this law of motives influence did not exist until the divine volition willed it into being; and if he could once act independent of this control, he might so act forever, and the argument, built on the absurdity of volition without an intelligent reason, would be contradicted. But if that argument has any weight, it fixes, in the order of cause and effect, a paramount influence eternally antecedent to the exercise of the divine mind, and controlling that mind with irresistible sway. This is fate! this is Atheism! Once set up an influence that controls the divine mind, call that influence what you please–fitness of things, fate, energy of nature, or necessary relation–and that moment you make God a subordinate; you hurl him from his throne of sovereignty, and make him the instrument of a superior. Of what use is such a Deity? Might we not as well have none? nay, better, as it seems to me, if, under the control of his own motive influence, he is led to create beings susceptible of suffering, and fix the relations of those beings to the motives around them such, that, by a law of their nature, they are ‘inevitably’ led to sin and endless woe? Is it to be wondered at, that many Calvinists have become infidels? This doctrine of motives is the very essence of the system of Spinoza, whose deity was the energy of nature. The supreme, controlling power of Dr. Edwards and his followers, is the energy of motives, which exist in the nature of things, anterior to the will of God. Can anyone point out in essential difference between the two systems?


  1. Fisk continues:


Another argument against the Calvinistic doctrine of motives, is that it leads to materialism. The doctrine, it will be recollected, is this: When the mind is brought into connection with objects of choice it is inevitably led, by a law of its nature, to the selection of one rather than of the other, unless there is a perfect equality between them; in which case I suppose, of course, the mind must remain in equilibrium; for it moves only by the influence of motives, and to the same degree, and in the same direction, with motive influences; of course, when it is equally attracted in opposite directions, it must be at rest! It is on this ground that Leibnitz maintained that God could not make two particles of matter in all respects alike; because, in that case, being ‘inevitably’ governed by motives in his decisions, he could not determine where to place them, both having the same influence on his mind for a location in the same place! The same writer represents this motive influence, also, as frequently imperceptible, but not the less effectual, and not the less voluntary; and, to illustrate it, makes the following comparison: “It is as if a needle, touched with a loadstone were sensible of, and pleased with, its turning to the north for it would believe that it turned itself independent of any other cause, not perceiving the insensible motives of the magnetic power.”


This statement of Leibnitz, who had paid great attention to this philosophical theory, is important in several respects. It is, in the first place, an acknowledgment that consciousness is against the doctrine; and it is, also, a concession that the mind is imposed upon in this matter by the Creator.


But, with respect to the argument that this doctrine leads to materialism, this quotation is important, because it shows that one of the most philosophical, if not one of the most evangelical, of the defenders of this doctrine, considered the law of motive influence similar to the law of magnetic attraction, differing only in being accompanied by sensation and a deceptive consciousness.


And what says its great evangelical champion in this country, Dr. Edwards? He compares our volitions to the vibrations of a scale-beam, the different ends of which are respectively elevated or depressed, as the opposite weights may chance to vary. What is this, but teaching that motions of mind are governed by the same fixed laws as those of matter, and that volitions are perfectly mechanical states of mind? What the advocates of this doctrine charge on the opposite theory, belongs, by their own showing, to their own system. They, not we, make choice the result of animal instinct. If the attractive power of motives over the mind is anything different from the law of gravitation, or magnetic attraction, what is that difference?


Should anyone say, I cannot tell, I ask, then, how does he know but it is that very power for which Arminians contend? Most probably it is that power. Or will it be said the difference between motive influence and gravity is consciousness? I reply, consciousness is no part of the relation between motives and the power of choice. I see not, indeed how it affects that relation at all. Look at the flowing stream; it hastens on most freely, and by the law of its own nature, down the gentle declivities or more precipitous slopes of its meandering channel. Suppose, now, that Omnipotence should impart consciousness to the particles of the continuous current, it would then wake up to perceive the action, and feel the pleasure of its own delightful motions. It would roll on still by the law of its own nature, and would feel that it was free to move according to its own inclination and voluntary tendency, for its will would, of course, be in the direction of its motive, or, in other words its gravitating influence. But could it turn its course, and roll back its waters to their fountain? It could, if it were so inclined. But its present inclination is toward the bottom of the valley, or the bosom of the ocean; and thither, by the relation which exists between its particles and the gravitating influence of the earth, it rolls on with the utmost freedom, though with the utterly impossibility of changing its own course, without the inversion of the gravitating power. Let the hand of Omnipotence invert the slope of the mountain, and, lo! with the same freedom these very same waters roll back again to their original fountains!


Thus it is with the human mind: it is conscious of being free to move in the direction of its inclinations, but require it to turn its course, and move in the current of its volitions in an opposite direction, and it would be utterly impossible, until Omnipotence himself should change the motive influence. “God is the determiner of perceptions, and perceptions are the determiners of choice.”


We see, therefore, that this doctrine of motive influence leads to materialism; for it makes the analogy between mental and material action so complete, that it destroys all idea of intellectual power. Philosophically speaking, there is no power in the laws of nature. What we express by the power of attraction, repulsion, or decomposition, is nothing more than the uniformity of the divine agency.


The power of motives to excite volitions, is nothing else but the divine energy operating through that mode to the accomplishment of a given end. God is the all-directing agent; mind, the passive recipient. From the theory, inertia becomes the law of mind as well as of matter; materialism is the unavoidable consequence.


Free agency, responsibility, and kindred vital doctrines vanish before this theory, as mists before the sun. God becomes the sole and universal doer: all physical, intellectual, and moral results, emanate from and return to him. Human volitions are as really the effects of divine agency, as the rising of the stars, the flight of the lightning, the tumult of the waters, or the light, which spreads itself like a garment over creation. Every volition of created mind is God’s act, as really as any other effect in nature. We have seen how every volition is connected with its motive–how the motive lies in a preconstitution–how the series of antecedents and sequents necessarily runs back, and connects itself with the infinite wisdom. God’s wisdom is his own act; the effect immediately produced by that volition is his own deed. Let that effect be the creation of man: the man, in all his powers and susceptibilities, is God’s work; the objects around him are God’s work; the correlation of the objects with the sensibility of man is God’s work; the volition, which necessarily takes place as the result of this correlation, is God’s work. The volition of the man is as strictly attributable to God, as, according to our common apprehensions, the blow which I give with the axe is attributable to me. What is true of the first man, is equally true of man removed to a thousand generations, for the intermediate links are all ordained of God, and form but so many parts of the same necessity. God is really the sole doer–the only efficient cause: all beings and things, all motions and volitions, are absolutely resolved into divine volitions. God is the author of all beings, things, motions, and volitions, and as such the author of any one of these as any other, and the author of all in the same way, and in the same sense. All things exist in necessity; that necessity centers either in God, or in something which is above God; God himself is all and only, or he, like all things else, is but a link in the stupendous chain, which attaches to the blind fate which governs and directs him, together with the rest.


  1. I object, further, to this doctrine, that it is not only contrary to the reason and consciousness of mankind, but, also, to the Word and revelation of God. It finds no favor in the Bible: every precept, exhortation, invitation, entreaty, remonstrance of that book, is opposed to it: it is anti-Bible. This might be shown with the utmost case, but it is so palpable as to need no such manifestation.


  1. I object: it is contrary to the opinion of the early Christians. I refer my readers, for proof of this and the former point, given at length, to Beecher’s Views in Theology, Tomlins’ Refutation of Calvinism, Whitby on the Five Points, &c.


  1. I object, that the whole theory of motive influence is without support, and depends upon vicious reasoning, or reasoning in a circle, for its proof. It asks to be believed upon unsound argumentation, and against the most overwhelming and, conclusive evidence of its utter falsehood. When, for instance, we ask what determines the will, we are directly answered, it is the strongest motive, but when we ask what constitutes the strongest motive, we are answered, that which determines the will. The whole theory is reducible to this vicious circle–this absurd assumption. Edwards’ celebrated work revolves in it from the beginning to the end. An unsupported assertion is made the basis of the whole, and upon the strength of this we are required to yield credence, against the testimony of consciousness of reason, of nature itself, of the Bible, and of everything else, within and without us, entitled to respect.


For a more extensive examination of this point, I must refer my readers to the following works: Dr. Beecher’s Views in Theology, Mahan on the Will, Tappan’s Review of Edwards, Bledsoe on the Will, Fisk, Jouffroy, &c. I take pleasure in acknowledging my obligations to these authors, as aids to the preparation of the present brief chapter. Had it been possible, I should gladly have made still more copious extracts from them. Let the studious inquirer refer to them, and he will find the subject thoroughly and sufficiently discussed. Had it been our purpose to write a treatise on the will, a more particular examination of the theory here objected to would have been made; such was not our plan, but simply to state the grounds or principles of the system, and name some of the many insuperable difficulties investing it. We leave the subject here: it will be for our readers to determine upon the question in debate. Is the view we have antagonized true or false? What is the answer? Let not prejudice make up the decision. What says reason–consciousness–the Word of God? What says the language of mankind–the common, every day, and everywhere sentiments of the species? Does not everything with which we are conversant–all law, all usage, all organizations of human society all rational methods of government and influence–proceed upon the assumption that man is a free, voluntary agent, having power to determine his own choices, as well as actions? Such, it seems to me, must be the spontaneous response of mankind–of humanity, unbiased by prejudice, unfettered by false philosophy.