Girardeau’s Will in its Theological Relations

For the first time, John L. Girardeau’s, The Will in its Theological Relations is fully available online.  Girardeau (†1898) was an important, American, southern presbyterian, reformed theologian who taught systematic theology at Columbia Theological Seminary in South Carolina.  Here he devotes a full-scale treatise to the topic of the freedom and necessity of man’s will.  

A seismic shift occurred on the topic of Predestination and the Will in the early 1700’s with Jonathan Edwards’ treatise Freedom of the Will.  The earlier view of Calvin, the Reformation and Westminster argued that fallen man did not have the power of contrary choice with regard to spiritual things, though Adam did have the power of contrary choice before the Fall, and depraved man still retained the power of contrary choice with regard to external and civil affairs after the fall.  In the pre-modern era (1500’s-1600’s), theologians did not believe that the will was necessitated by the laws of nature, or governed by internal, necessary laws in a similar way like unto the laws of nature.

Edwards, being influenced by the developing philosophies of the Enlightenment, including that of John Locke and others, argued that the will was necessitated in the same way as the then newly developed universal laws of nature.  The earlier doctrine of a moral necessity was transformed into a doctrine of natural necessity.  It came to include not just certain spiritual choices of a person, but all the choices of the will and all the motions of nature as well.  This was previously unknown to Reformed theology, and came to be called Philosophical Necessity, or Determinism.  

Girardeau argues that this is a departure from historic reformed theology, and demonstrates that it was not the view of Calvin and the Reformed Confessions.  Richard Muller, one of the leading reformed historians in the world today, has also recently confirmed numerous of Girardeau’s concerns with the shift occasioned by Edwards.  Listen to the lecture here: 

Richard Muller – “Jonathan Edwards and the Absence of Free Choice: A Parting of Ways in the Reformed Tradition”, 1 hour and 11 minutes, Sept. 29th, 2010, at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, being the Inaugural Lecture for the Jonathan Edwards Center