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I. All men are naturally free
The first important fact to be noted is, that all men are naturally free, and none the less so for being sinners. They naturally have freedom of will.
By natural freedom I do not mean that they have a right to do as they please; for this can by no means be true. Nor do I mean that they are free agents merely in the sense of being able to do as they will to do. In fact, men sometimes can and sometimes can not execute their purposes of will; but be this as it may, moral liberty does not consist in the power to accomplish one’s purposes. You are aware that some old philosophers defined liberty of will to be the power to do what you will to do. This, for many reasons, can not be the true idea of freedom of the will. For look at the department of doing which is embraced in muscular action. The simple fact is, that some of our muscles are not under the control of the will at all, while others are under its control by a law of the sternest necessity. In regard to this latter class, all the freedom there is pertains to the will—none of it to the action of the muscles controlled by the will. It is then a sheer mistake to deny the location of freedom where it is, and to locate it where it is not. If there be any such thing as necessity in the universe, it is found in the absolute control held by the will over those physical muscles which are placed under its control. The obedience of the muscles is absolute—not free or voluntary in any sense whatever. Hence the absurdity of locating human freedom there.
This freedom is in the will itself, and consists in its power of free choice. To do, or not to do—this is its option. It has by its own nature the function of determining its own volitions. The soul wills to do or not to do, and thus is a moral sovereign over its own activities. In this fact lies the foundation for moral agency. A being so constituted that he can will to do or not to do, and has moreover knowledge and appreciation of his moral obligations, is a moral agent. None other can be.
It deserves special notice here that every man knows that he has a conscience which tells him how he ought to act, as well as a moral power in the exercise of which he can either heed or repel its monitions.
That a man is free in the sense of determining his own activities is proved by each man’s own consciousness. This proof requires no chain of reasoning. It is strong as need be, without any reasoning at all. A man is just as much aware and as well aware of originating his own acts as he is of acting at all. Does he really act himself? Yes. And does he know that he acts himself? Yes. How does he know these things?, By consciousness. But he has the same evidence of being free—for this is equally proved by his own consciousness.
Still further: man can distinguish between those acts in which he is free, and those in which he is acted upon by influences independent of his own choice. He knows that in some things he is a recipient of influences and of actions exerted upon himself, while in other things he is not a recipient in the same sense, but a voluntary actor. The fact of this discrimination proves the possession of free agency.
The difference to which I now refer is one of everyday consciousness. Sometimes a man can not tell whence his thoughts come. Impressions are made upon his mind the origin of which be can not trace. They may be from above—they may be from beneath: he knows but little of their source, and little about them, save that they are not his own free volitions. Of his own acts of will there can be no such uncertainty. He knows their origin. He knows that they are the product of an original power in himself, for the exercise of which he is compelled to hold himself primarily responsible.
Not only has he this direct consciousness, but he has, as already suggested, the testimony of his own conscience. This faculty, by its very nature, takes cognizance of his moral acts, requiring certain acts of will and forbidding others. This faculty is an essential condition of free moral agency. Possessing it, and also man’s other mental powers, he must be free and under moral obligation.
It is inconceivable that man should be under moral law and government, without the power of free moral action. The logical condition of the existence of a conscience in man is that he should be free.
That man is free is evident from the fact that he is conscious of praise or blameworthiness. He could not reasonably blame himself unless it were a first truth that he is free. By a first truth, I mean one that is known to all by a necessity of their own nature. There are such truths—those which none can help knowing, however much they may de. sire to ignore them. Now unless it were a first truth, necessarily known to all, that man is free, he could not praise or blame himself.
As conscience implies moral agency, so, where there is a conscience, it is impossible for men really to deny moral responsibility. Men can not but blame themselves for wrong doing. Conscious of the forewarning of conscience against the wrong act, how can they evade the conviction that the act was wrong?
Again, the Bible always treats men as free agents, commanding them to do or not to do as if of course they had all the power requisite to obey such commands. A young minister once said to me, “I preach that men ought to repent, but never that they can.” ”Why not preach also that they can?” said I. He replied, “The Bible does not affirm that they can.” To this I replied that it would be most consummate trifling for a human legislature, having required certain acts, to proceed to affirm that its subjects have the power to obey. The very requirement is the strongest possible affirmation, that in the belief of the enacting power, the subjects are able to do the things required. If the law-makers did not believe this, how in reason could they require it? The very first assumption to be made concerning good rulers is, that they have common sense and common honesty. To deny, virtually, that God has these qualities, is blasphemous.
Freedom of will lies among the earliest and most resistless convictions. Probably no one living can remember his first idea of oughtness—his first convictions of right and wrong. It is also among our most irresistible convictions. We assume the freedom of our own will from the very first. The little child affirms it in its first infantile efforts to accomplish its purposes. See him reach forth to get his food or his playthings. The little machinery of a freely acting agent begins to play long ere he can understand it. He begins to act on his own responsibility, long before he can estimate what or how great this responsibility is. The fact of personal responsibility is fastened on us so that we might as well escape from ourselves as from this conviction.
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