1689 Vs. The Westminster Confession (9): Of Free Will

Our comparison and contrast of the WCF with the 2LC continues through chapter 9, “Of Free Will.” A word of explanation about this language is in order. In 2022, when we hear or read the phrase “free will,” we might be tempted to think of what philosophers call “libertarian free will,” e.g., the ability to will the contrary to God. Very few Christians ever posited such an idea prior to Modernity. In most Christian accounts, e.g., Bernard of Clairvaux’s On Grace and Free Will, what is in view is the existential reality of human free choices, which are said to be comprehended within divine providence. This is what is in view in this chapter of these confessions.

WCF 9.1

2LC 9.1

1. God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty, that is neither forced, nor by any absolute necessity of nature determined to good or evil. 1. God hath indued the Will of Man, with that natural liberty, and power of acting upon choice; that it is neither forced, nor by any necessity of nature determined to do good or evil.

The “natural liberty” with which God has endued humans is the product of his free will. Following the pattern that we have seen previously, the 2LC follows the Savoy by elaborating on the WCF by adding the clause, “and power of acting upon choice.” This elaboration seems apologetic and not a substantive revision of the WCF.

WCF 9.2

2LC 9.2

2. Man, in his state of innocency, had freedom and power to will and to do that which was good, and well pleasing to God; but yet, mutably, so that he might fall from it. 2. Man in his state of innocency, had freedom, and power, to will, and to do that which was good, and well-pleasing to God; but yet was mutable, so that he might fall from it.

The “state of innocency” to which the confessions refer is the state of nature or the state in which Adam was created. This is standard Reformed doctrine, under this head, that Adam was created good, i.e., in righteousness and true holiness, that he might rightly know God his Creator, heartily love him, and live with him in eternal blessedness,” as Heidelberg Catechism 6 says. The Baptist confession turns the adjective mutable into an adverb, mutably with no discernible effect on the doctrine. This is Augustinian doctrine. Adam was created able to sin, able not to sin.

WCF 9.3

2LC 9.3

3. 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 thereunto. 3. 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 thereunto.

There is not difference between the Baptist and Reformed confessions on this point. This is the Augustinian doctrine of depravity contra Pelagius. This is a good reminder to us, when we are tempted to follow the Remonstrants or their modern successors. The siren song of Pelagianism is a perpetual temptation and it occurs in many forms, in the Remonstrant doctrine, Richard Baxter’s theology, and in all those two-stage doctrines of justification and salvation that have achieving so-called “final justification” or “final salvation” through good works.

WCF 9.4

2LC 9.4

4. When God converts a sinner, and translates him into the state of grace, He freeth him from his natural bondage under sin; and, by His grace alone, enables him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good; yet so, as that by reason of his remaining corruption, he doth not perfectly, nor only, will that which is good, but doth also will that which is evil. 4. When God converts a sinner, and translates him into the state of Grace he freeth him from his natural bondage under sin, and by his grace alone, enables him freely to will, and to do that which is spiritually good; yet so as that by reason of his remaining corruptions he doth not perfectly nor only will that which is good; but doth also will that which is evil.

The only formal difference between the Baptist and Reformed confessions under this paragraph is the substitution of “corruptions” for “corruption.” This seems to be only a formal change. The theology is Augustinian, anti-Pelagian and anti-Remonstrant.

WCF 9.5

2LC 9.5

5. The will of man is made perfectly and immutably free to do good alone, in the state of glory only. 5. The Will of Man is made perfectly, and immutably free to good alone, in the state of Glory only.

There is no difference here between the Baptist and the Reformed. This is the final state of Augustine’s “fourfold state of man,” which we see reflected in classic Reformed works such as Thomas Boston’s. This is, again, anti-Pelagian and anti-Remonstrant, both of whom taught the error of perfectionism. The doctrine remains in some Wesleyan and Nazarene circles. It is not a biblical doctrine as it contradicts the clear teaching of Scripture in many places but nowhere more than Romans 7. See the resources for more on perfectionism.

Here we see the Baptist appropriation of aspects of the Reformed doctrine of salvation. As I argued previously, the 2LC is an attempted synthesis of the Reformed order of the application of redemption (ordo salutis) with the Baptist understanding of the history of salvation (historia salutis) and the Baptist view of church and sacraments. The Baptist appropriation of the Reformed ordo salutis does not make Baptists Reformed nor does it re-define the meaning of the word Reformed to exclude the rest of its significance. From the 1550s (see my essay in On Being Reformed linked below) the adjective Reformed denoted a reading of redemptive history (i.e., a covenant theology), a hermeneutic, a doctrine of Scripture, God, Humanity, Christ, Salvation, Church, and sacraments.

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.

RESOURCES

3 comments

  1. Very interesting that you conclude that the 2LC is “ “an appropriation of aspects of the Reformed doctrine of salvation” and “an attempted synthesis of the Reformed order of redemption with the Baptist understanding of the history of salvation.” So the 2LC seems to be a cut and paste approach to make the Anabaptist hermeneutics on the Bible, as divided between the covenants of works in the OT and the covenant of grace in the NT to fit in with the teachings of the Reformers, while still maintaining the Anabaptist understanding of how God deals with his people differently in the OT because there is no administration of the new covenant/covenant of grace, which offers Christ as the substance. Yet somehow these covenants of works, which they maintain is the substance of the covenants in the OT, reveal the new covenant/covenant of grace so that OT saints were saved under the new covenant of grace, which didn’t exist, but they somehow anticipated. To just admit that there was an administration of the new covenant of grace/new covenant throughout the history of redemption would be so much simpler, but that would cause problems with their doctrines, that have their roots in Anabaptist teachings, on the sacraments, the church, God, Christ, and even how salvation is offered throughout the history of redemption.

  2. Thank you for your helpful comparisons between the 1689 and the WCF! But …
    Question: Is there a reason why Part 5 is still in “draft” and not accessible?

Comments are closed.