This is the fifth of a series of articles by Dr. Cox, with a Biblical critique of Calvinism drawn in part from his book Not One Little Child.
A survey of the New Testament documents harmonizes beautifully with the testimony of the Old Testament concerning human options. Matthew recorded the words of Jesus when he taught His disciples to pray. Jesus stated that there is God’s will and implied that there is man’s will (Matt. 6:10). Jesus said that man may or may not choose to do the will of God (Matt. 7:21), that whoever does the will of God is related to Christ (Matt. 12:50), and that willingness to follow Him rests with man (Matt. 16:24). He further declared that the Father wills that none should perish, not one little child, which all of us begin as (Matt. 18:14). Jesus also implied that doing the will of God is optional when He taught the parable of the two sons (Matt. 21:31). And, I think one of the most fabulous of all passages regarding the human freewill is the one which relates the prayer of Jesus just before His arrest, in which is seen His human will conflicting with the will of God; but Jesus voluntarily submitted His human will to God’s will when He said, “… if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as Thou wilt” (Matt. 26:39).
Mark recorded the words of Jesus as declaring that man can do good whenever he is willing (Mark 14:7). Luke announced that the birth of Jesus demonstrates God’s good will toward all mankind [not simply the elect] (Luke 2:14). Luke further pointed out that killers exercise their wills, for Jesus was delivered by Pilate to the will of the mob (Luke 23:25).
The Apostle John noted that there is a distinction between the will of man and the will of God when he pointed out that those who are born again are not born of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God, and we have already seen that God’s will is for all to be saved and that none perish (John 1:13). This verse is not discounting the human element in salvation, for the previous verse has already asserted that the right to become a child of God is granted to as many as receive Him (John 1:12). Also, we see again that Jesus acknowledged the presence of His human will and God’s will, and that He subjected His human will to God’s will (John 5:30). Further, when Jesus discussed Peter’s future with Him, He intimated that man can conduct his life as he wills, and he can change his will, as did Peter between his early rambunctious years and his later spiritually mature years (John 21:18).
Paul recognized that mankind struggles within between willing to do what is right and actually doing what is right. In Rom. 7:18 he wrote that nothing good dwells in man, but then amended his statement to say that nothing good dwells in one’s flesh, probably implying that something good does dwell in one’s spirit. To say that nothing good dwells in man is not a complete view of saved or unsaved man, as Paul shows by stating that to will to do good is present within him. The desire to do right is present within. The law of conscience is present in all. This consciousness of right and wrong has been damaged but not destroyed. Humans know the difference between right and wrong, but doing what is right is difficult and often unnatural. Paul knew that the sin nature is powerful and understood that there is a cataclysmic conflict between willing and doing. He taught that man can do what he wills, and in the context of 1 Cor. 7:36 it is regarding allowing a daughter to marry. Paul also saw that some have stronger wills than others (1 Cor. 7:37). Additionally, Paul stated that he acted voluntarily concerning preaching the gospel, and not against his will (1 Cor. 9:17). In the case of Apollos, Paul disclosed that he wanted Apollos to pay a visit to Corinth, but that Apollos’ desire was not to do so right then. So we have here a reference to man’s will concerning where to go and minister, and also when to go (1 Cor. 16:12). Paul even recognized that Satan has a will, and he tells Timothy as much (2 Tim. 2:26).
I do not know the name of the human agent God inspired to write the Book of Hebrews. What I do know is that he asserted that mankind can choose to sin wilfully (Heb. 10:26). He also admonished his readers to see to it that they not refuse (Heb. 12:25). Refuse God? Is this possible? Hebrews 12:25 declares that God speaks. As in the case of Jonah, we are not told how, so we are left to deduce that He does so through the conscience, through nature, through His spoken word, through His written word, and most excellently through the blood of Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, God can be refused. We all have a choice. First, there is truth. Second, there is knowledge of Christian truth making its appeal to the intellect. Third, there is faith, unable to prove or disprove the truth, venturing to act upon the truth. He wants all to receive Him, not refuse Him. God used prophets to warn people on earth. Prophets of God speak for God. Those rejecting the prophet or his words are actually rejecting God. Those rejecting the warnings of the prophets do not escape God’s wrath on earth. Those rejecting God’s warnings from heaven and turning their back on Him will not escape His wrath. See to it that you do not refuse God. This is the emphatic plea of the author of Hebrews. He employs a present imperative to urge his readers not to decline God’s offers.
Simon Peter declared that shepherds (pastors), and others, can act out of constraint or willingly, meaning that we do have a will (1 Pet. 5:2). He also stated that no human will produces God’s prophecy or Scriptures. There is, then, a clear distinction between man’s will and God’s will (2 Pet. 1:21). Further, Peter said that those refusing God’s truth are willingly ignorant when they question the promise of Christ’s return, in that they fail to notice that creation itself was begun at the word of God; thus, God’s words regarding the return of Christ, which we have not yet seen, are as effective as His words which produced creation, which we have seen (2 Pet. 3:5).
The Apostle John did not cease his writing activities with his Gospel. In 1 John, he reported that man chooses to do the will of God (1 John 2:17). And in the Book of Revelation John affirmed that anyone who wishes may take of the cup of life (Rev. 22:17). The solemn invitation of Rev. 22:17 is that the Holy Spirit beckons all who hear or are thirsty to come. Then the bride says come, suggesting that Christians beckon unbelievers to come to Christ. The one who hears says come, implying that those who know Gospel truth must invite others to come to Christ. The one who is thirsty may come. The one who wishes for eternal life may drink freely. The invitation is open to any and all. Revelation 22:17 is perhaps the most evangelistic verse in the book.
With J. W. MacGorman, I assert that, unless people are free to say “no” to God, neither are they free to say “yes” to Him.1 Along these same lines, Marvin Vincent writes, “The potter does not make vessels in order to shiver them. God does not make men in order to destroy them. God ordains no man to eternal death. He desires to honor humanity, not dishonor it; and the fact that men do become vessels unto dishonor, merely proves the power which God has lodged in the human will of modifying, and in a sense defeating, His sovereign purpose of love.”2 God but persuades, almighty man decrees. Calvinism has an appalling optional weakness which it cannot overcome from the pages of Holy Writ.
The next article in this series will explore the restrictive weakness of Calvinism.
1John William MacGorman, Romans, in Layman’s Bible Book Commentary, vol. 20, Romans – 1 Corinthians (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1980), 27.
2Marvin R. Vincent, The Epistle to the Romans, in Word Studies in the New Testament, vol. 3, The Epistles of Paul (New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1887; reprint, Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1980), 147.