The Reformed Freedom of Choice vs. Determinism

“Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions.”

Eccl. 7:29

“…but time and chance happeneth to them all.”

Eccl. 9:11

“Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works had been done in Tyre and Sidon, which have been done in you, they had a great while ago repented, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.”

Lk. 10:13


The Westminster Confession, 5.2

“Although, in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first cause, all things come to pass immutably and infallibly: yet, by the same providence, He ordereth them to fall out, according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently.”

ch. 9.1

“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.”




Free Choice
How did the First Human Sin Happen?



Order of Contents

How Predestination & Free Choice Consist
.      On Reformers  10+
.      Reformers, Puritans, Confessions, etc.  18+
Articles  30+
Books  10

Historical Theology  1
.     Aquinas  1
.     Edwards  10
Primacy of the Intellect?  4
Contingent Causes  1
Free Causes  1
Latin  1




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 though fallen man does not have the spiritual power of contrary choice with regard to spiritual things (Rom. 6:6-14; 8:5-8Eph. 2:1-3; 1 Cor. 2:14; etc.), yet Adam did have the power of contrary choice before the Fall, and depraved man still retains the power of contrary choice after the Fall with regard to the external and civil affairs of common life.

Even where the fallen, unbelieving soul is by its inherent spiritual tendency bound to choose what is sinful, it is not determined to one particular thing, but has the power to freely choose amongst many sinful alternatives.  In all of these choices, the person, with respect to the created order, had the power to, and could have chosen otherwise.  Hence Augustine: “The will is free, but only to evil.’

Reformed theologians of the Reformation and Puritan eras largely did not believe that the will was necessitated by the laws of nature, deterministic laws intrinsic to the soul, or by the created order itself.

Edwards, in the early 1700’s, being influenced by the developing philosophies of the rising Enlightenment (including those of John Locke and others), argued that the will was necessitated in essentially the same way as the then newly developed, universal, mechanistic laws of nature.  Persons are determined within the created order to do exactly what they do, necessarily, and they could not do otherwise.  Responsibility, upon that supposition, is due to our ignorance of the inner, mechanistic workings of the soul.

The earlier doctrine from the orthodox period of a theological and moral necessity was transformed into a doctrine of natural necessity.  The Biblical doctrine of the spiritual bondage of the will under the power of sin, affecting certain spiritual choices of a person, came to be merged with the idea of a deterministic, creational order that encompasses all of nature and all of the choices of the will.

This latter viewpoint came to be called Philosophical Necessity, or Determinism.  The view that determinism is consistent with moral responsibility is called Compatibilism, that these things are compatible.  A deterministic compatibilism is the most prevalent view within Calvinism today.

On the contrary, the Westminster Confession makes a very important distinction between God’s decree falling out infallibly, but not necessarily (ch. 5.2):

“Although, in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first cause, all things come to pass immutably and infallibly:[h] yet, by the same providence, he ordereth them to fall out, according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently.[i]

[h] Acts 2:23
[i] Gen. 8:22. Jer. 31:35. Exod. 21:13 with Deut. 19:5. 1 Kings 22:28,34. Isa. 10:6,7

What God eternally decrees always comes to pass in the creature infallibly (that is, without error; it never never misses the mark), but what God decrees does not come about by necessity.  Rather, the decree falls out through the means of three types of secondary causes:

(1) Necessary causes,
(2) Free causes, and
(3) Contingent causes.

(1) Necessary causes are those that necessarily produce the result, like the forces of nature and pool balls hitting each other.  (3) Contingent causes are those that are dependent on conditions or other factors and causes which are possible, but of themselves they do not produce the result.  In view here are things that may or may not happen due to a combination of factors, such as what we generally call ‘accidents’ or things happening by ‘chance’.  (2) Free causes are those of persons’ wills, which are not inherently determined by extrinsic or intrinsic factors, and which are capable of producing a different result than what they do.

That everything falls out exactly as God has decreed, while the free agency of man is preserved, is possible because God’s decree and infinitely mysterious operations in providence are on a qualitatively different level than that of the created order and the will of the creature.  *How* this happens, is, and forever will be, an insoluble mystery.  Westminster Confession, 3.1 summarizes the Biblical teaching thus:

“God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass:[a] yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin,[b] nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.[c]

[a] Eph. 1:11. Rom. 11:33. Heb. 6:17. Rom. 9:15,18
[b] Jam. 1:13,17. 1 John 1:5
[c] Acts 2:23. Matt. 17:12. Acts 4:27,28. John 19:11. Prov. 16:33

When the Arminians and others accused the reformed theologians of the 1500’s and 1600’s of determinism, the reformed largely denied the caricature and carefully delineated how the Biblical teaching of God’s eternal decree and its execution in providence is not deterministic.  Because events and choices inevitably come to pass as they do, and this was immutably known and ordained of God, it does not follow that they came about by necessity.  The puritans also often argued that determinism is not compatible with ethics.

Persons may be surprised at how receptive historic reformed theologians were (as we should be) to the language and notion of ‘Free Will’ in its common, natural and Biblical sense.  In some preliminary remarks, John Owen (†1683) summarizes the reformed position inDisplay of Arminianism, pp. 116 (Works, vol. 10):

“Yet here observe, that we do not absolutely oppose free will, as if it were nomen inane, a mere figment, when there is no such thing in the world, but only in that sense the Pelagians and Arminians do assert it.  About words we will not contend.

We grant man, in the substance of all his actions, as much power, liberty, and freedom as a mere created nature is capable of.  We grant him to be free in his choice, from all outward coaction [coercion] or inward natural necessity, to work according to election and deliberation, spontaneously embracing what seemeth good to him.  Now call this power free will or what you please, so you make it not supreme, independent, and boundless, we are not at all troubled.”

In confirmation of these things, Dr. Richard Muller, a leading reformed historian in the world today, has in recent years demonstrated in numerous publications that the seismic shift in predestination occasioned by Jonathan Edwards in the early-1700’s was a departure from the older, confessional reformed theology.  Here is his summary of the original reformed view:

“The issue debated between the Arminians and the Reformed was not philosophical determinism but soteriology.  The biblical examples by the Reformed typically point to the bondage of human beings in sin, to their inability to choose salvation–not to a determination of human actions in general and, especially, not to a determination of human beings to commit individual transgressions.”

While this topic is a bit involved and there is not necessarily easy resources to start with, the quotes below should be helpful, the excerpt by John ‘Rabbi’ Duncan is superb, and William Cunningham is slow and clear.  We give our highest recommendation for the advanced student to the contemporary books of van Asselt and Muller below, as well as to the book by the late-1800’s, Southern presbyterian, John L. Girardeau.


“We establish free choice far more truly than our opponents.”

Francis Turretin †1687



How Predestination is Consistent with Free Choice

J.K.S. Reid, ‘Introduction’ to Calvin’s Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God  (1961), pp. 25-27


Predestination, Determination & Determinism

“Something more may properly be said about these two orders just mentioned, though what will now be said goes a little beyond what Calvin explicitly states.  Predestination is not the same as determination, and it is even more widely different from determinism.

By determination is meant the influencing of the conduct of something in a greater or less degree by certain factors or conditions, one or more, external or internal.  Determinism is the hardening of this conception into a mechanical compulsion by factors operating strictly a tergo [from behind], so that what is done is the exact and necessary consequence of those antecedent factors.

Calvin’s Predestination has really nothing to do with antecedent factors–not even with factors earlier than those involved in determination.  It has to do with factors, or more strictly with a factor, if the term be admissable at all, which is prior to antecedence of any kind, and it is therefore located not at an earliest point in time but rather pretemporally or supratemporally.  While the other terms operate within the temporal category and are thus definable, Predestination has a non-temporal character which constitutes it another order of being.

Predestination or predetermination is not determination simply by a greater power, but is different in kind from mere determination and hence a fortiori [that much more] from determinism.  Predestination is quite different from fate.

It follows that while determination raises an cute problem with regard to human responsibility, Predestination does not necessarily do so.  Indeed, so far from being incompatible with such independence as is required to establish responsibility, it is itself the concept under which this independence can (to put it so) carve out for itself a real place.

Philosophically, when we deal with the relation of a finite magnitude to a greater but also finite magnitude, the independence of the one is conserved only at the expense of the other; when we deal with a really infinite magnitude and its relation to a finite magnitude, this is no longer the case.  Theologically, God is not simply the magnification of man, and His qualities are not simply the qualities of man increased to the power of n.  If this were true of Him, then predetermination would be merely determination on a greater, grander scale, and there would be even less hope of securing the independence of the finite magnitude which man is.  But just because He is really infinite, the Predestination of which He is the author does not rob man of his independence and therefore of his responsibility.

Now it is really Predestination for which Calvin argues, and he must be deemed to be quite right in maintaining that man, though predetermined by the decrees of God, is yet secure in that degree of independence which permits of responsibility being attributed to him.”



Quotes on the Reformers

On Martin Luther

J.K.S. Reid, ‘Introduction’ to Calvin’s Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p. 27

“The freedom of which the Bible speaks, whether we look at what is said in Genesis or in St. Paul, is not an indetermination of this kind [freedom of indeterminacy in the modern sense].  It is a positive freedom in doing the will of God.  To put it in other words, it is equally a freedom for and a freedom from –a freedom for the service of God, resulting in a freedom from the things that would impede obedient service.  The contradictory of this freedom is not determination as such, but rather the choice of evil which results in bondage to the powers of evil.

This is the sense in which Luther so powerfully and insistently represented the distinction between the libertas Christiani hominis [Christian liberty of a man] and the servum arbitrium [bondage of choice].  So too Augustine distinguishes between arbitrium as choice and voluntas as will, holding that man has voluntas, but only when turned by grace towards the good does he make choice (arbitrium) of the good.”


William Cunningham

‘Calvinism & the Doctrine of Philosophical Necessity’  in The Reformers & the Theology of the Reformation

“Luther and his followers, who had at first made some very absolute and exaggerated statements in the way of denying free will altogether, came afterwards to attach much importance to a distinction between man’s freedom in things external, civil, and moral, and his freedom in things properly spiritual, and they embodied this distinction in the Confession of Augsburg (ch. 18).”


Dr. Richard Muller on the Reformers

Christ & the Decree, pp. 178-9

“This issue [of a deterministic system] for all the theologians noted in this essay [Calvin, Bullinger, Musculus, Vermigli, Beza, Ursinus, Zanchi, Polanus & Perkins] is the establishment of the divine will in Christ as the ground and foundation of our salvation—what might be called a soteriological determinism: as J.K.S. Reid remarked of Calvin’s doctrine, predestination belongs to a different order of being from our willing and therefore does not interfere with human responsibility.¹ 

¹ Cf.  Reid’s introduction to Calvin’s Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p. 26.

Rather than philosophical determinism, we encounter in these thinkers, on the side of providence and the overarching divine causality, a Scotist [from John Duns Scotist] conception of panergism or a standard scholastic conception of the concurrence of divine and human willing, without any sense of a determinism or necessity inherent in the will itself or in the order of being of which man is a part.  Predestination stands, simply, as the guarantee of divine sovereignty in the work of salvation; indeed, as the guarantee of the efficacy of Christ’s work.  In this doctrinal assumption there is continuity from Calvin’s time onward into the early orthodox codification.”


p. 180

“Thus in PolanusSyntagma, and even in a high orthodox system like Turretin’s Institutio theologicae elencticae, where a fully developed doctrine of God and his attributes with all the scholastic and philosophical language of essence and being appears prior to treatment of predestination, the determining factor in the system is not a speculative interest in the metaphysics of causal determination but a soteriological interest in the manner in which God relates to his world in Christ.²

² Cf.  Turretin, Institutio, I.v.4.

This is indeed a deterministic system, but as with Calvin, the stress is upon hope in Christ and the utterly free grace of the transcendent God in making possible the salvation of believers; and the divine determination, lodged in another order of being, does not infringe upon the freedom or contingency of events in this, the order of finite being.”



On Peter Martyr Vermigli  †1562

Patrick Donnelly, Calvinism & Scholasticism in Vermigli’s Doctrine of Man & Grace  (Brill, 1976), p. 148

“Martyr feels it necessary to review the various kinds of necessities.  His review is intricate and scholastic…

Martyr, however, prefers a distinction of his own for a solution.  He distinguishes the necessity of coaction or coercion from the necessity of infallibility or of certainty…  [thus the human will] is subject to the hypothetical necessity–it is conditioned by God’s foreknowledge and predestination…  the necessity lies in the connection of divine predestination with human acts.”


Richard Muller on John Calvin

Richard A. Muller, “Reception & Response: Referencing & Understanding Calvin in Seventeenth-Century Calvinism,” in Calvin & His Influence, 1509-2009, ed. by Irena Backus & Philip Benedict (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), p. 189.  HT: Tony Byrne

“Calvin is similarly defended on the issue of free choice by various others, including the St. Andrews and Aberdeen University metaphysician Robert Baron (1593-1639).  In the particular case of free choice of the will, Calvin’s rather hyperbolic language of the bondage of the will and its inability to do any good (quite in parallel with Luther’s De servo arbitrio [Bondage of the Will]) had to be argued as referring to the specific case of the fallen will in its inability to choose a saving good rather than, as one might read Calvin’s unqualified language, as a full doctrine of free choice.

Baron pointed out, against Ballarmine, that the issue in debate was not the human power of free choice in natura sua considerato [considered in its nature], which all human beings can exercise, but rather the limitation of free choice in fallen humanity and the issue of free choice in the instant of conversion.”


J.K.S. Reid on John Calvin

‘Introduction’ to Calvin, Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p. 27


It is notable that Calvin has very little to say about human freedom.  This must strike the reader as perplexing, for it is customary in modern discussion of the subject to link freedom with responsibility so closely that the terms become virtually synonymous.  The freedom thought of here is a freedom of indeterminacy.

But Calvin thinks of freedom quite differently.  The freedom of which the Bible speaks, whether we look at what is said in Genesis or in St. Paul, is not an indetermination of this kind.  It is a positive freedom in doing the will of God.  To put it in other words, it is equally a freedom for and a freedom from –a freedom for the service of God, resulting in a freedom from the things that would impede obedient service.  The contradictory of this freedom is not determination as such, but rather the choice of evil which results in bondage to the powers of evil.

This is the sense in which Luther so powerfully and insistently represented the distinction between the libertas Christiani hominis [Christian liberty of a man] and the servum arbitrium [bondage of choice].  So too Augustine distinguishes between arbitrium as choice and voluntas as will, holding that man has voluntas, but only when turned by grace towards the good does he make choice (arbitrium) of the good.

It is in such theological terms that Calvin, too, conceives freedom.  It is, moreover, a freedom which men in Adam have lost (see Institutes, 2.2), and which only Christ can restore (2.6).  With the freedom of indeterminacy with which ethics deals he is therefore not concerned.  It is enough for his purpose if he can show that men are responsible; and this is at least his intention.”


Heinrich Heppe on the Reformed Scholastics

Reformed Dogmatics, ed. Bizer, trans. G.T. Thomson, ch. 7, ‘The Decrees of God’, p. 144

“13.  Since therefore all evil takes place contra voluntatem mandantem (counter to the enjoining will [preceptive will]), but absolutely nothing praeter voluntatem efficientem and efficaciter permittentem (outwith the efficient and effectually permissive will) of God, everything that takes place is necessitated by God, not necessitate coactionis [by a necessity of coercion] but necessitate hypothetica [by a hypothetical necessity] and consequentiae [the necessity of consequence].

Everything ensues as ordered on the hypothesis decreti divini, so that the divine decree abolishes neither the freedom of personal creatures (who always do self-determinedly what God determined should be done), nor, as regards causa secunda [second causes], the contingency of things (which later ceases to be contingency solely in relation to the divine counsel).”


Richard Muller on Francis Turretin

“Recovering the Past for Use in the Present: Richard Muller”, an interview of Richard Muller by R. Scott Clark, 7:39-8:26.  HT: Tony Byrne

“If you read Francis Turretin’s Institutes of [Elenctic] Theology at the beginning of each topic, he has a state of the question.  What are we actually discussing here.  A good example is when you ask the question, “Do human beings have free choice?”  Turretin will say we are not discussing the question of whether human beings have free choice in every day matters.  There’s no debate.  They do.

We’re not discussing the question of whether human beings have free choice to obey the law on a daily basis, the civil law or moral law.  We all agree, they do.  What we are debating is the specific question, “Do human beings have free choice in matters of salvation, matters of being righteous before God.  And the answer we have is, no they don’t.  We disagree with Rome and Arminians and the like on that point.”


William Cunningham

Historical Theology, vol. 1, pp. 573-74

“These, then, are the two points asserted in the statement of our [Westminster] Confession in regard to that natural liberty with which God has endued the will of man—viz., [1] that there is nothing in the inherent structure of the natural power of volition itself, as it exists even in fallen man, and [2] that there is no external force or compulsion exerted upon him, which certainly deprives him of a capacity of doing good as well as of doing evil.  If it be true, as it certainly is, that fallen and unrenewed men do always in point of fact will or choose what is evil, and never what is good, the cause of this is not to be traced to any natural incapacity in their will or power of volition to will or choose good as well as evil, nor to any external force or compulsion brought to bear upon them from any quarter; for this would be inconsistent with that natural liberty with which God originally endued the will of man, and which it still retains and must retain.  It must be traced to something else. 

The Reformers admitted all this, and in this sense would not have objected to the doctrine of the freedom of the will, though, as the phrase was then commonly used in a different sense as implying much more than this—as implying a doctrine which they believed to be unscriptural and dangerous—they generally thought it preferable to abstain from the use of the expression altogether, or to deny the freedom of the will, and to assert its actual bondage or servitude because of depravity, or as a consequence of the fall.”


Historical Theology, vol. 1, ‘The Doctrine of the Will’, p. 585

“…the Reformers and older Calvinistic divines ascribed to man before his fall a freedom or liberty of will which they denied to man as he is, and that the only necessity or bondage which they ascribed to man as he is, was an inability to will what is spiritually good and acceptable to God, as a result or consequence simply of the entire depravity of his moral nature–i.e., of his actual dispositions and tendencies.

This was the only necessity they advocated as having anything like direct and explicit sanction from scripture, or as indispensably necessary to the exposition and defence of their system of theology–not a necessity deduced from anything in God’s purposes and providence, or from anything in men’s mental constitution applicable to men, as men, or simply as creatures, but from a special feature in men’s character as fallen and depraved.

This necessity or bondage under which they held man fallen, as distinguished from man unfallen, to lie, resolved itself into the entire absence in fallen man of holy and good dispositions or tendencies, and the prevalence in his moral nature of what is ungodly and depraved; and thus stood entirely distinct from, and independent of, those wider and more general considerations, whether philosophical or theological, applicable to man as man, having a certain mental constitution, or as a dependent creature and subject of God, on the ground of which the controversy about liberty and necessity has been of late commonly conducted.”



Quotes of Reformers, Puritans, Confessions, etc.

The Augsburg Confession  1530


The Augsburg Confession was an important Lutheran confession.  For background info on it, see Wiki.  The Lutheran and Reformed were agreed on the topic that this chapter speaks to.

“Luther and his followers, who had at first made some very absolute and exaggerated statements in the way of denying free will altogether, came afterwards to attach much importance to a distinction between man’s freedom in things external, civil, and moral, and his freedom in things properly spiritual, and they embodied this distinction in the Confession of Augsburg (ch. 18).” – William Cunningham


Ch. 18, ‘Of Free Will’


Peter Martyr Vermigli  †1562

Predestination & Justification  in The Peter Martyr Library, vol. 8, pp. 69 ff.

“Is Necessity Imposed Upon Us?

Extrinsic necessity (necessitate exterius) is of two kinds.  One is violent, when things are compelled to work against their nature.  The other is hypothetical.  The Scholastics have said that there is a necessity of consequence and another of the consequent.  By this distinction they mean that the connection is sometimes necessary, although what is inferred is not itself necessary.  The Logicians have also distinguished themselves in this way, calling the one a compound sense, the other a divided sense…

50. Now let us more closely search out how those distinctions of necessity may be applied to the present purpose.  First our actions have no intrinsic necessity.  Willing is of its own nature (as God created it), mutable and flexible to either side.  It has a hypothetical necessity.  As soon as you consider the forekowledge and predestination of God, it follows of necessity that it will come about just as God foreknows and predestines it.  Our will does have an aptitude to be bent in either direction, but the act of conversion does not possess it, except in the direction God has foreknown…

51.  …Inasmuch as the necessity which we treat now comes externally and is only by hypothesis, things should not be valued according to it, but according to those principles or grounds which are understood by us.  Thus our works which proceed from our will are said to be free, and those things produced in nature which may or may not come to pass, are considered contingent.  Now we assert that the necessity of certainty or consequence should never be denied, nor must we snatch our works away from nature or from foreknowledge or God’s providence.

Does Necessity Hinder Free Will?

52.  When joined with foreknowledge, this will neither subverts nor destroys natures, but works in them so that it agrees with them.  Therefore, since the nature and property of the human will is to work freely and by choice, God’s foreknowledge and will do not take this power or faculty from it, although his predestination is the cause of all good acts done by the elect and in the elect…

Although sins are in one sense subject to the will of God, they are not produced by it in the same way as are good deeds…

…There can be no knowledge [of God] unless (as we have said) it is certain and sure, but this determination and certainty of his–we have said and say again–does not subvert the nature of things or take away liberty from our nature.

We may prove this as follows:  God foreknew that many things were possible that will never be, and although they will never be, the foreknowledge of God does not remove from them the possibility of existence.  We will illustrate this by an example from Scripture.  When Christ was arrested he said, ‘I could have asked of my Father and He would have given me more than twelve legions of angels to defend me from these soldiers.’ (Mt. 26:53)  Here Christ affirms that it was possible for Him to ask that it might be granted him so many legions of angels, yet this was neither done nor was it meant to be done, and although it would never happen, yet it was not hindered by foreknowledge, but was possible.  Therefore, since the foreknowledge of God does not exclude possibility, neither does it remove contingency and freedom.

57. How does it happen that God foresees things to come with certainty, while human wills and many natural causes are doubtful and work in a contingent manner?  It is like this: it is quite true that those who consider things only in terms of their causes are often deceived, for all causes do not necessarily produce their effects…  Thus we may infer from the foreknowledge of God the necessity of certainty and infallibility, which we cannot do of secondary causes…  For everything that is necessary [by God’s foresight], we must not say afterward that the thing was necessary, for it is not taken in the same sense as was the foreknowledge of God.”


The Second Helvetic Confession  1566

Ch. 9, ‘Of Free Will & thus of Human Powers’

WHAT MAN WAS AFTER THE FALL. Then we are to consider what man was after the fall. To be sure, his reason was not taken from him, nor was he deprived of will, and he was not entirely changed into a stone or a tree. But they were so altered and weakened that they no longer can do what they could before the fall. For the understanding is darkened, and the will which was free has become an enslaved will. Now it serves sin, not unwillingly but willingly. And indeed, it is called a will, not an unwill (ing).

MAN DOES EVIL BY HIS OWN FREE WILL. Therefore, in regard to evil or sin, man is not forced by God or by the devil but does evil by his own free will, and in this respect he has a most free will.

IN EXTERNAL THINGS THERE IS LIBERTY. Moreover, no one denies that in external things both the regenerate and the unregenerate enjoy free will. For man has in common with other living creatures (to which he is not inferior) this nature to will some things and not to will others. Thus he is able to speak or to keep silent, to go out of his house or to remain at home, etc…

HERESIES. In this matter we condemn the Manichaeans who deny that the beginning of evil unto man, being good, came from his free will.  We also condemn the Pelagians who assert that an evil man has sufficient free will to do the good that is commanded. Both are refuted by Holy Scripture which says to the former, “God made man upright” and to the latter, “If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).”


The Leiden Synopsis  1625

Disputation 11, ‘On Providence’, Sections 10-11, trans. Riemer Faber, ed. van Asselt, Boer, Faber (Brill, 2015)

“For also in actions of the free will a creature endowed with intellect is not exempt from the ordering of the first cause; because it is altogether necessary that every creature and its every action, and even the manner and completion of whatever action it takes are traced back to God, as to the first, most perfect and accordingly most efficient cause. Therefore it follows that in creatures there is no freedom of the will which does not arise from sharing in the highest, uncreated freedom, which is the first, proper and innermost cause of the created freedom, and of all free actions (insofar as they are of that sort).

The notion that the functioning of divine providence destroys the freedom of the created will is so far from the truth, that the will cannot exist at all without it.  For since not only each and every action of the creature but also the manner of his action depends upon the effective working of the divine will, it follows that the freedom of human actions is established, and not destroyed, through God’s providence. This must be said even of the contingency of things in general.  For divine providence does not corrupt nature, but perfects it; it does not take it away, but guards it.  And everything which He created He administers in such a way that He allows each one even to carry out and perform its own particular motions (Augustine, On the City of God, book 7, chapter 30).”


Disputation 17, ‘On Free Choice’, p. 417

“18.  Then again, in man’s corrupt state, or in man as born only naturally and bound up by original sin, although he had not lost the intellect in his intelligence (despite being corrupted entirely) nor the natural freedom¹ of choice in his will, he retained his natural faculties (along with the physical substance of his soul) which form the principle of his actions, and he retained the remote and passive ability to undertake the opposite.  Nevertheless, he lost the righteousness and goodness in both his intellect and his will; indeed, he took on the opposite, sinful inclination.

¹ [‘natural freedom is defined in Disp. 17.12 as: “a human wills (and does everything that he wills and chooses to do) not out of natural necessity; nor does he will and do anything coerced by external force or against his will, unwillingly.  For nature, violence and the necessity of compulsion are opposed to the will.”]

19.  And so by the proximate and active capability, instigated by the devil (who has power and dominion over it) free choice is drawn no longer towards the good that is truly good, but only towards the evil that only appears good (although a choice remains between the sorts and degrees of evil); with respect to the nearest principle it is necessarily carried off freely, willingly, and of its own accord.  For he chooses evil and rejects the good.”


Johannes Wollebius  †1629

Compendium of Christian Theology  in Reformed Dogmatics: Seventeenth-Century Reformed Theology through the Writings of Wollebius, Voetius & Turretin, p. 59

“Ch. 6, The Actual Providence of God

V. The providence of God does not destroy secondary causes, but upholds them.

VI. From the standpoint of providence, events which are contingent with respect to secondary causes are necessary.  But it is a necessity of immutability, not of coercion.”


William Twisse

Riches of God’s Love  (Oxford, 1653), bk. 1, p. 69

“I willingly grant that the determination of the end does necessarily involve the means, that not only precede but procure the end.  But I will utterly deny that sin is the means of damnation; we say rather that permission of sin is the means, whence notwithstanding it follows not that sin shall come to pass unavoidably, but rather avoidably, whether we consider the free will of man or the decree of God; for every particular sinful act is a natural thing, and undoubtedly man has free will as to do, so to abstain from doing, any particular act.

And albeit God has determined that these particular sinful acts (instance the particular outrages committed against the holy Son of God by Herod, Pontius Pilate, together with the Gentiles and people of Israel) shall come to pass by his permission; yet seeing withal He has ordained them to come to pass contingently, that follows that they shall come to pass in such a manner as joined with a possibility of not coming to pass; otherwise they should come to pass not contingently but necessarily.”


A Discovery of Dr. Jackson’s Vanity  (London, 1631), p. 274

“For even those things which God decided to come to pass contingently as the actions of man, must necessarily by the virtue of God’s decision come to pass, in such a manner as joined with a possibility of not coming to pass, otherwise it were impossible they should come to pass contingently.”


A Treatise of Mr. [John] Cotton’s Clearing Certain Doubts Concerning Predestination together with an Examination Thereof  (London, 1646), p. 68

“…we say with [Thomas] Aquinas, that, “God’s will is so efficacious, as to cause all things to come to pass after such a manner as they do come to pass; to wit, necessary things necessarily, and contingent things contingently, or freely, whether in good or evil.””


William Ames  †1633

The Marrow of Theology, ch. 7, ‘The Decree and Counsel of God’, p. 99

“49. The will of God does not imply a necessity in all future things, but only a certainty in regard to the event.  Thus the event was certain that Christ’s bones should not be broken, because God willed that they should not be.  But there was no necessity imposed upon the soldiers, their spears, and other secondary causes then present.

50. Indeed it is as wrong to say that the will of God, which attains whatever it wills, urges all things with hard necessity as that it is the prime root and efficient cause of all contingency and freedom in things, on the ground that it effectively foreordains certain effects to follow certain causes.”


John Davenant

Animadversions written… upon a treatise entitled, God’s Love to Mankind  (Cambridge, 1641), pp. 240, 333, 341, 360, 402, as cited by Theophilus Gale, Court of the Gentiles, IV/III.i.4, p. 17

“That absolute Election and Reprobation may stand with a possibility to contrary events, though not with contrary events.”


Gisbert Voetius  †1676

De Termino Vitae, p. 106, as trans. Jeongmo Yoo, John Edwards, p. 143

“From another direction however such necessity with contingency and liberty can best conspire into one subject, for example, one and the same thing can be both necessary and contingent but from different respects.

Concerning its own antecedent it is necessary not by absolute, intrinsic necessity but by mere hypothetical, extrinsic and respective;

Concerning particular and proximate cause in its own nature it is contingent and in this way it should be called simply, absolutely and properly free and undetermined.”


John Owen  †1683

Display of Arminianism in Works, vol. 10

pp. 116

“Yet here observe, that we do not absolutely oppose free will, as if it were nomen inane, a mere figment, when there is no such thing in the world, but only in that sense the Pelagians and Arminians do assert it.  About words we will not contend.  We grant man, in the substance of all his actions, as much power, liberty, and freedom as a mere created nature is capable of.  We grant him to be free in his choice, from all outward coaction [coercion] or inward natural necessity, to work according to election and deliberation, spontaneously embracing what seemeth good to him.  Now call this power free will or what you please, so you make it not supreme, independent, and boundless, we are not at all troubled.”


p. 119

“We grant as large a freedom and dominion to our wills, over their their own acts, as a creature subject to the supreme rule of God’s providence, is capable of.  Endued we are with such a liberty of will as is free from all outward compulsion and inward necessity, having an elective faculty of applying itself unto that which seems good unto it, in which it is a free choice, notwithstanding it is subservient to the decree of God.”


Francis Turretin

Institutes, Tenth Topic, ‘The Free Will of Man in a State of Sin’, Question 2.  The reader is encouraged to see Turretin’s numerous discussions relating to the related issues throughout his Institutes, as he has a lot more to say.

p. 662

“V.  There are two principal characteristics of free will in which its formal nature consists: (1) the choice, so that what is done is done by a previous judgment of reason; (2) the willingness, so that what is done is done voluntarily and without compulsion.  The former belongs to the intellect; the latter belongs to the will. 

Two species of necessity also contend [are in opposition] with it.  The first is physical and brute necessity; the other the necessity of coaction [compulsion].  The former takes away the choice; the latter, however, the willingness.

For the things done from a physical necessity by natural agents determined to one thing by nature and without reason, cannot be done freely, i.e. with the previous light of reason.  And the things done by force and compulsion cannot be done voluntarilyThere is no controversy about these between us and our opponents.”


p. 663

“VIII.  Third, as to moral necessity arising from habits.  For as the will can be called “free” if it is devoid of habit, so it can rightly be called “slavish” if by habit it has been determined to a certain manner of acting.  Still this servitude by no means overthrows the true and essential nature of liberty.  Otherwise it would follow that habits destroy the will (which they rather perfect and facilitate to operation).  Hence moral habits are twofold: good and evil.  A two fold servitude also is thence born: the one of righteousness in good; the other of sin in evil and misery.  This belongs to man in a state of sin, of which John says, “Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin” (8:34); and “Ye were the servants of sin” (Rom. 6:17)…

IX.  Hence it is evident that the adversaries falsely charge our men with saying the will is a slave in the state of sin, as if its liberty were destroyed by that very thing.  Scripture beforehand so calls it and indeed with a twofold limitation:

(1) that “servant” should be understood not absolutely and physically, but relatively, after the fall in a state of sin;
(2) not simply about every natural, civil, or externally moral object, but especially about a spiritual object good per se (in which manner inability to good is more strongly asserted, but the essence of liberty is not destroyed). 

Although the sinner is so enslaved by evil that he cannot but sin, still he does not cease to sin most freely and with the highest liberty.”


Petrus van Mastricht

Theoretical Practical Theology  (RHB), vol. 3, Bk. 3

ch. 4, section 11, Objections

“(c) Nor is a thing necessary properly speaking unless it is produced from a necessary proximate cause, that is, such a cause that is determined by its own nature to such an effect; however, the decree of reprobation does not imply such a cause, although it does imply a certain and indeclinable futurity, which is as different from necessity as heaven from earth.

[It is objected] (2) That this reprobation makes God the author of all sin, inasmuch as it predestined and necessitates the sinner to sinning. I respond: (a) It does not make it that the sinner sins necessarily, or that he does so determined by his own nature to sinning.”


ch. 9

section 6, ‘In the Rational Soul is Intellect, Will & Free Choice’

“From both the faculty of perceiving and of desiring arises then free choice, which is nothing other than the faculty of acting from counsel or rational complacency.  It can admit a certain natural indifference, in the divided sense (as they say), but it by no means consists in indifference.”


section 46, (2) With regard to his essence

“…we recognize that our soul, formed according to the image of God, is of a spiritual, simple, invisible, and immortal nature, one endowed with intellect, will, and free choice (all of which without doubt denote perfection)…”


ch. 10

“XVI.  …divine providence is occupied not only with respect to necessary things, which have a natural connection with their own causes (Jer. 33:20, 25), but also, first, with respect to contingent things, which have an uncertain, fortuitous, and casual connection: either with the existence and nature of God, in which sense all things except God exist contingently, inasmuch as in themselves they are able not to exist; or with their own proximate causes operating accidentally and contingently; or with man’s free choice.  That contingent things of this sort are subject to divine governance is taught throughout Scripture (Ex. 21:12–13; Deut. 19:5; Prov. 21:31; Ps. 127:1–2; 46:8–10; Dan. 11:21), even to the smallest things, such as the falling of a hair (Matt. 10:30), the operations of locusts and lice (Ex. 8:17; 10:12; Joel 1:4; Acts 12:23). In these things, accordingly, their own natural contingency does not perish, because they are certainly and infallibly directed, and come to pass, by the first cause.  This appears specifically in the lot (Prov. 16:33), by which God decides cases through merely contingent events (Judges 6:37; Josh. 7:14), and likewise in his deciding the end of human life (Ex. 21:12–13; Isa. 38:5).

5. With free actions XVII.

It is also occupied, second, with respect to free things that result from choice or counsel.  For that these are subject to divine determination (and that certainly physical, not only moral), is evident both by the Scriptures (Prov. 16:1; 19:21; 21:1; Gen. 43:14; Ex. 11:1–3; 4:11; Phil. 2:12), and by reasons, because otherwise free choice would be independent, at least with respect to the act of determining itself.  Yet notwithstanding, that these things remain free, is likewise, according to Scripture (1 Peter 5:2; Heb. 10:26) and experience, an indubitable fact.

Moreover, by what reckoning the liberty of our choice is consistent with divine predestination is not so difficult to understand (as many think), if we consider that the divine influence and its predetermination does not hinder man from acting from counsel and rational complacency, or from determining himself while remaining otherwise undetermined and indeterminable by any created cause.  I will add that if God, by determining the will and therefore producing a volition, deprived the will of liberty, then also the will, by determining itself and procuring its own volition, would deprive itself of liberty, which is contradictory; conversely, if the will, by determining itself, does not destroy its own liberty, then neither does God by doing the same.  Wherefore the providence of God, in determining our choice, in no way either takes away or injures the liberty of choice.

6. With moral operations

XVIII. It is occupied, namely, third, with respect to moral actions, both good and evil, which, just as from this determination of divine providence they are not any less free, likewise they are not any less ours: for although God is their efficient cause insofar as they are existing things (Acts 17:25, 28), nevertheless man remains their formal cause.  God certainly produces faith in man, yet it is not God who believes, but man.


Objections are Refuted.

(2) Nor does divine providence take away contingency or the liberty of our choice, since (according to Augustine in City of God, bk. 7, ch. 30), “He administers things in such a way that he permits them to perform their own proper motions.”  For divine providence does not hinder certain things from occurring
through causes that are by their nature not determined to a particular effect, that is, causes that are contingent, or through the counsel of a created will, that is, through free choice.  In fact, all of this results from the providence of God alone.”


Samuel Willard  1703

A Brief Reply to Mr. George Kieth, as quoted in Muller, Divine Will, p. 290.  Willard was a New England puritan and here follows the paradigm laid out in Turretin, that an initial free deliberation and power of the soul to alternatives ought to be distinguished from when the soul chooses its choice and no longer remains indifferent towards it, but determines it and follows through upon it.

“only we may observe, that though there may such a thing be allowed to the Will, in actu primo [its first act], which the Schools call Simultas potentiae [simultaneous potentialities], by virtue where of the Will, according to its own nature, is capable of acting or not acting, or acting either thus or contrarily; and is capable of acting thus now, and is afterwards capable of revoking that act: nay indeed, this is the root of the liberty of the Will.

Nevertheless, in actu secundo [the following act], or which the Schools call Potentia Simultatis [a potency for simultaneous alternatives], which is in the Wills applying itself to its act, it does not then act Indifferently, but upon choice, by which it is determined.”


Benedict Pictet  †1724

Pictet (1655–1724) was the successor to Francis Turretin in Geneva, the last of the orthodox professors there.

Theologia Christiana, III. I. XIII as trans. Jeongmo Yoo, John Edwards, p. 137

“From this immutability of the decree, it does not follow that God decreed anything in such a way that its effect would be obtained by lot, but this immutability does not remove the liberty of the creatures.  Indeed it is difficult to grasp how this infallible event can exist with the liberty of human beings.  Truly nothing is [more] certain than:

1. Nothing that would not be decreed occurs.
2. We all act freely and it is enough to know too.

This should [be] so much observed that the same decree which decreed the future of the thing established the mode by which the thing of future [should] exist, so that all creatures act suitably to their own nature; inanimate creature with physical necessity; truly rational and free creatures both with reason and with freedom.”


John Gill  †1771

Body of Divinity  (London, 1796), vol. 1, p. 255

“Everything that comes to pass in this world, from the beginning to the end of it, is pre-ordained; everything good and bad…  and evil things by his permissive decrees, by which He suffers things to be done; yea, things contingent, which with respect to second causes may seem to be or not to be, as the free actions of men.”


Bernardinus de Moore  †1780

de Moore (1709-1780) was a reformed, Dutch systematician.

ed. van Asselt, etc., Reformed Thought on Freedom, p. 228

“Even free choice stands in need of a liberator, but one, of course, who would set it free, not from necessity, which was quite unknown to it since this pertains to the will, but rather from sin, into which it had fallen both freely and willingly, and also from the penalty of sin which it carelessly incurred and has unwillingly borne.”




Medieval Church

Aquinas, Thomas

A Compedium of Theology

ch. 139, ‘Contingency of Some Effects’
ch. 140, ‘Divine Providence Compatible with Contingency’

Contra Gentiles, Bk. 2

47. ‘That intellectual substances are endowed with will’
48. ‘That intellectual substances have freedom of choice in acting’

Scotus, John Duns – ‘The Nature & Cause of Contingency’  in John Duns Scotus: Selected Writings on Ethics  ed. & trans. Thomas Williams  (Oxford, 2017), pp. 86-95  from Reportatio IA, dd. 39-40, qq. 1-3, nn. 24-59

“…we must deal with four preliminary issues: first, whether there is contingency in things; second, given that there is, we need to determine the first cause of contingency; third, we must show how the primary basis of contingency can be found in God; and fourth, we need to clarify certain propositions that arise in this discussion.” – p. 86


On the Post-Reformation Generally

Hampton, Stephen – 1. ‘Free Choice’  in ‘Sin, Grace & Free Choice in Post-Reformation Reformed Theology’  in Lehner, Muller & Roeber, The Oxford Handbook of Early Modern Theology, 1600-1800  (Oxford, 2016), pp. 229-31

“Maresius…  insists, the Reformed believe that the power of free choice is intrinsic to humanity…

It is true that unlike irrational creatures, human beings are not naturally determined to just one course of action.  They are free, in other words, from ‘physical necessity’.  As a result, when human beings choose to do something under the influence of grace, they nonetheless retain a faculty within them which, were that grace withdrawn, would enable them to pursue another course of action.  So if one considers free choice simply as a faculty, in isolation from all the natural and supernatural prerequisites for acting (the ‘divided sense’ [according to the created order]), it does indeed have both the inherent potential to accept or reject a given course of action (‘freedom of contradiction’)…

So for Maresius, free choice is incompatible with both physical necessity and the necessity of coercion: but it is compatible with other kinds of necessity.  It is compatible, for example, with the necessity of dependence on God (Maresius 1646-48, 2:12).  It is also compatible with ‘moral necessity’.  That is the necessity which results from a human being’s moral character.  Jesus’s moral character is such that He cannot sin; yet his goodness is still freely chosen.  The moral character of the unregenerate is such that their acts are always sinful; yet their sin is still freely chosen (Maresisu 1646-48, 2:14).

Free choice is equally compatible with the necessity brought about by the divine decree.  Maresius calls this kind of necessity ‘hypothetical necessity’ or the ‘necessity of consequence’ (Maresius 1646-48, 2:15)…  Maresius is seeking to preserve the fundamental contingency of human action…  that choice is only necessary, given the divine decree–it is not inherently or absolutely necessary…  for as Maresius underlines, ‘such is the faculty of the human will that, by its intrinsic constitution and nature, it is equally apt to choose an act plainly contrary to the one it actually chooses’ (Maresius 1646-48, 2:15).”



Vermigli, Peter  1499-1562

Philosophical Work: on the Relation of Philosophy to Theology  Buy

‘Does Providence allow any Contingency in Things?’, p. 192 ff.
‘Free Will’, pp. 279-80

Students of Geneva, under Beza & Faius

Propositions and Principles of Divinity Propounded and Disputed  (Edinburgh, 1591)

Pt. 1, ch. 11, ‘Concerning God’s Eternal Predestination’
Pt. 2, ch. 16, ‘Free-Will’

Willet, Andrew – ‘Of the Power & Strength of Free Will in Man’  in Synopsis Papismi (London, 1592), The Five Other Popish Sacraments, Benefits of our Redemption, the Third Part of Justification, First Question: of Free Will, pp. 571-575



Davenant, John – The Determinations, or Resolutions of Certain Theological Questions, Publicly Discussed in the University of Cambridge  trans. Josiah Allport  (1634; 1846)  bound at the end of John Davenant, A Treatise on Justification, or the Disputatio de Justitia...  trans. Josiah Allport  (1631; London, 1846), vol. 2

Question 22, ‘God’s Decree does Not Take Away from Man’s Freedom’, pp. 337-40

Question 25, ‘The Divine Foreknowledge was Not the Cause of the Fall of Man’, pp. 350-54

Goade, Thomas – A Disputation Concerning the Necessity and Contingency of Events in Respect of God’s Eternal Decrees  (d. 1638)  35 pp.

On Thomas Goade:

Muller, Richard – Goading the Determinists: Thomas Goad (1576-1638) on Necessity, Contingency & God’s Eternal Decree  in Mid-America Journal of Theology 26 (2015), pp. 59-75

Rutherford, Samuel

Rutherford’s Examination of Arminianism: the Tables of Contents with Excerpts from Every Chapter  tr. Charles Johnson & Travis Fentiman  (1638-1642; RBO, 2019)

ch. 2, ‘On God’

45. ‘Whether sin necessarily follows upon God’s giving permission by a logical necessity?  We affirm against the Remonstrants.’, pp. 71-72

ch. 11, ‘On the Manner of Conversion’

7. ‘Whether because God infallibly determines the will to one thing, He overturns liberty?’, pp. 102-3

Table of Contents to Rutherford’s Treatise on Providence  trans. Bobby Phillips

See especially:

8 – Q. 3 – Whether sin still necessarily follows from the ordained permission of God by necessity of consequence, even though not by causal obligation.

26 – Whether physical predetermination, by which God preordains wills unto entitative physical acts of sin, makes God to be the Author of sin?

Metaphysical Inquiries

8 – Whether God exercises providence in all things by necessity of nature or by freedom?
– Whether the decree of GOD removes ability from a secondary cause?
– Whether a free action is contingent?
– Whether Adam sinned freely because he sinned by the remote predeterminate motion of GOD?
– Whether there is such a thing as a contingent future and what it is?

On Rutherford

Goudriaan, Aza – ‘Samuel Rutherford on the Divine Origin of Possibility’  being ch. 8 in ed. Denlinger, Reformed Orthodoxy in Scotland: Essays on Scottish Theology 1560-1775  Buy  pp. 141-56

“In his ‘Metaphysical investigations’ [appended to his Treatise on Providence, see the table of contents], Rutherford argues that God’s being is the first principle of all things…  the law of non-contradiction cannot be the very first principle.  The law of non-contradiction in complex, not simple…

Possibilia are grounded in God’s omnipotence.  God likewise becomes the ‘Lord of impossibilities, by creating the specific forms of things from which incompossibilities result.’  Accordingly, it is important to note that ‘all possibilia are possible because God is omnipotent; God is not, conversely omnnipotent because they are in themselves and intrinsically possible.’…

Rutherford gives an affirmative answer to the question ‘whether God is the origin and cause of impossibilia and possibilia‘…

Another question that Rutherford addresses is ‘whether possibilia are something real’.  They are not, according to Rutherford, since they are just called ‘possible’ by a merely external reference to God’s omnipotence.  Possibilia are, as their name suggests, merely ‘in potency’, not actually existing…” – pp. 142-3, 145

Reynolds, Edward – p. 539 ff.  in Treatise of the Passions & Faculties of the Soul  (London: R.H., 1640)

Maccovius, Johannes – ch. 9, ‘On Free Choice’  in Scholastic Discourse: Johannes Maccovius (1588-1644) on Theological & Philosophical Distinctions & Rules  (1644; Apeldoorn: Instituut voor Reformatieonderzoek, 2009), pp. 177-81

Maccovius (1588–1644) was a reformed, supralapsarian Polish theologian.

Charnock, Stephen – ‘God’s Foreknowledge of Man’s Voluntary Actions does not Necessitate the Will of Man’, pp. 492-96  in Discourse on the Existence & Attributes of God in Works  (d. 1680), vol. 1

Owen, John

pp. 128-32  of The Mystery of the Gospel Vindicated & Socinianism Examined  in Works  (†1683), vol. 12

‘On the Natural Ability of Men for Duties Required Unto Regeneration’

Turretin, Francis

3rd Topic

14. ‘Does God will some things necessarily and others freely?  We affirm.’, pp. 218-20

4th Topic

4. ‘Does the decree necessitate future things?  We affirm.’, pp. 319-22

See also: Gobelman, Carl – ‘To be Free or not to be Free?  An Analysis and Assessment of Francis Turretin’s Doctrine of Free Will’, in Mid-America Journal of Theology, 22 (2011), pp. 129-44

Bunyan, John

ch. 7, ‘Whether any under Eternal Reprobation have Just Cause to Quarrel with God for not Electing of them?’  (†1688)  3 pp.  in Reprobation Asserted, in Works, pp. 705-7

“…reprobation makes no man personally a sinner, neither does election make any man personally righteous: it is the consenting to sin that makes a man a sinner, and the imputation of grace and righteousness that makes gospelly and personally just and holy.” – p. 706

ch. 8, ‘Whether Eternal Reprobation in Itself, or in its Doctrine, be in Very Deed a Hindrance to Any Man in Seeking the Salvation of his Soul?’  (†1688)  2 pp. in Reprobation Asserted, in Works, pp. 707-8

“…the fall; the cause of which was neither election nor reprobation, but man’s voluntary listening to the tempter.

3. It is yet far more evident that reprobation hinders no man from seeking the salvation of his soul, because, notwithstanding all that reprobation does, yet God gives to diverse of the reprobates great encouragements thereto; to wit, the tenders of the Gospel in general, not excluding any…” – p. 707

van Mastricht, Peter – Theoretical-Practical Theology  (RHB), vol. 3

ch. 1, section 24
ch. 2, section 25
ch. 10, sections 29-31



Edwards, John – pp. 60-61 of Theologia Reformata: or the Body and Substance of the Chriftian Religion  (1713)

This John Edwards (1637–1716) was a reformed Anglican.  He was one of the last prominent reformed divines of that era to teach the older reformed view of free will, just shortly before Jonathan Edwards in America was promulgating a synthesis of Calvinism and Enlightenment philosophy on the will.

Witherspoon, John – pp. 116-17  in Lectures of Divinity, Lecture 13, ‘Of the Decrees of God’, in Works, vol. 8

An excerpt from these two pages:

“They say natural or physical necessity takes away liberty, but moral necessity does not; at the same time, they explain moral necessity so as to make it truly physical or natural.”

John Howe – ‘Man’s Creation in a Holy but Mutable State’  12 pp.

Howe was an English dissenter.

Gib, Adam – pt. 3, ‘A View of the Absolute & Immediate Dependence of All Things on God in a Discourse of Liberty & Necessity’  75 pp.  in Sacred Contemplations  (1786)

Gib was a leader in the Secession Church of Scotland.



Cunningham, William

pp. 583-86 of ‘The Doctrine of the Will’  in Historical Theology, vol. 1

‘Calvinism & the Doctrine of Philosophical Necessity’  in The Reformers & the Theology of the Reformation, pp. 471-524

Cunningham, a professor of the Free Church of Scotland, recognized the newness of philosophical necessity and that the older reformed theology was not dependent on it.  Cunningham tentatively held that philosophical necessity had some plausibility, but did so with numerous qualifications.

Cunningham, in one place, argues that philosophical necessity is consistent with the Westminster standards and the reformed theology of that historical era.  We could not disagree more.  That the main stream of reformed theology in that era was opposed to philosophical necessity, see the works of Dr. Richard Muller.  That the doctrine of the Westminster standards is opposed to philosophical necessity, see pp. 171-177 of ch. 3 of Girardeau’s The Will in its Theological Relations.

Duncan, John ‘Rabbi’ – ‘The Nature of Free-Will’  in Colloquia Peripatetica, pp. 93-95

Duncan was a professor in the Free Church of Scotland who was known for his profound, proverbial sayings.  He aligns with the older reformed view.

Girardeau, John L.

ch. 8, ‘Summation of Results from the Whole Preceding Argument’, pp. 401-9  (1891)  9 pp.  in The Will in its Theological Relations

‘The Freedom of the Will in its Theological Relations’, part 1part 2part 3part 4part 5  in The Southern Presbyterian Review  (1878), vol. 29, p. 611 ff.; (1879), vol. 30, pp. 51-83; (1880), vol. 31, #1, pp. 1-44; vol. 31 (1880), pp. 323-50; vol. 31 (1880), pp. 614-48.  James A. Waddell responded to this series of articles.  His response to Girardeau’s 3rd article is here.

Girardeau was an important southern presbyterian professor and theologian.  He later rewrote these articles into his book on the topic below.  The articles, amongst other things, defend Calvin from the Edwardsean viewpoint.



Goudriaan, Aza – ch. 3, ‘The Providence of God, Secondary Causality, & Related Topics’  in Reformed Orthodoxy & Philosophy, 1625-1750  Buy  (2006)

2. ‘The Relation Between the First Cause & Secondary Causes’

3. ‘Freedom of the Human Will: Reservations & Defence’

“Even though it does not focus on the Reformed Doctrine of free choice itself, Aza Goudriaan’s Reformed Orthodoxy And Philosophy, 1625-1750 also devotes one section to the Reformed understanding of human freedom and its relation with divine determination through a detailed analysis of Gisbertus Voetius (1589-1676), Petrus van Mastricht (1630-1706), and Anthonius Driessen (1684-1748).

Here Goudriaan shows in detail how these Reformed figures attempt to maintain the balance between the freedom of human will and divine decree or providence without causing metaphysical determinism or making God the author of sin, although he does not directly engage in the debate with previous modern scholarship.” – Jeongmo Yoo, John Edwards, p. 28

Richard Muller

‘Grace, Election & Contingent Choice: Arminius’s Gambit & the Reformed Response’  (1995)  27 pp.  in ed. Thomas Schreiner & Bruce Ware, The Grace of God, the Bondage of the Will, vol. 2, Historical & Theological Perspectives on Calvinism  Buy  pp. 251-78

“Richard A. Muller, in his article, “Grace, Election and Contingent Choice…” deals with the historical myth that the classic reformed theology leads to metaphysical determinism.  Quite the contrary to the charge, by analyzing the teachings of the major Reformed thinkers and confessions, Muller shows that the Reformed view of divine sovereignty and grace neither denies human free choice and future contingents nor undermines human responsibility.” – Jeongmo Yoo, John Edwards, p. 28

Mylius, R.A. [Richard Muller] – ‘In the Steps of Voetius: Synchronic Contingency & the Significance of Cornelius Elleboogius’ Disputationes de Tetragrammato to the Analysis of his Life & Work’ (2010)  10 pp.  in ed. M. Wisse, M. Sarot & W. Otten, Scholasticism Reformed: Essays in Honour of Willem J. Van Asselt  Buy  pp. 92-102

‘God as Absolute & Relative, Necessary, Free, & Contingent: The Ad Intra-Ad Extra Movement of Seventeenth-Century Reformed Language About God’  in Always Reformed: Essays in Honor of W. Robert Godfrey  Buy  ed. R. Scott Clark & Joel E. Kim, 2010, pp. 56-73

Sytsma, David – ‘The Specter of Necessitarianism’  in ch. 7, ‘From ‘Epicurean’ Physics to Ethics’  in Richard Baxter & the Mechanical Philosophers  (Oxford, 2017), pp. 233-39





Strong, William – A Treatise Showing the Subordination of the Will of Man Unto the Will of God ToC  (London, 1657)  335 pp.  on Acts 21:14  This was recommended by Thomas Manton.  Pages 197-278, especially, treat of the permissive will of God.

Strong was an Independent puritan and Westminster divine.

Sterry, Peter – A Discourse of the Freedom of the Will  (London, 1675)  245 pp.

Sterry (1613–1672) was an Independent, a Westminster divine and a chaplain to Cromwell.  Sterry associated with the Cambridge Platonists prominent during the English Civil War era.  Sterry had a mystical streak and was a millenarian; he expected the second advent of Christ, with the millennium on earth following, in the early 1650’s, and 1656 at the latest.

This book has three parts.  The first argues against “those arguments…  in opposition to that liberty of the will, which [liberty] is placed in the determining of its power, received from the First Cause, unto a contrariety or contradiction in its actings, with an independency upon the First Cause, the order and connection of causes, and the understanding.”

The second part further argues “the reasons upon which that opinion of this freedom is established. These Reasons are taken 1. from the will it self; 2. from the nature of sin, and the divine justice; 3. the language of the Scripture; 4. from the end of laws; 5. from the order and nature of things.”  The third part is “An enlargement upon the argument taken from the mediation of Christ.”

Gale, Theophilus – The Court of the Gentiles. Part IV, Of Reformed Philosophy. Book III, Of Divine Predetermination, wherein the Nature of Divine Predetermination is fully explicated & demonstrated, both in the general, as also more particularly, as to the substrate mater or entitative act of sin  (1678)  217 pp.

Gale (1628-1679) was reformed.  ‘Court of the Gentiles’ refers to his on natural philosophy, from which this smaller piece derives.

“The sum of all is this, that the determination or predetermination of Divine concurse to this or that act does not make the negation of that act, or a contrary act, a simple or most strictly natural impossibility, as some would persuade us, but only infers a necessity of the consequence, the will having still, in sensu diviso [in a divided sense], i. e. on supposition of the withdrawment of Divine concurse, an habitual indifference to act or not to act, though, in sensu composito [in a combined sense], as predetermined by Divine concurse, it cannot but act.

Or summarily thus: The will has at that very time, when it is predetermined by God to this or that act, an habitual power or radical indifference to the negation of that act, or to the putting forth a contrary act: So that Divine predetermination excludes only a contrary act, not the radical power to that act.” – pp. 16-17

Humfrey, John – The Middle Way of Predetermination Asserted. Between the Dominicans & Jesuits, [Some] Calvinists & Arminians, or, A Scriptural Inquiry into the Influence & Causation of God in & unto Human Actions; especially such as are Sinful  (1679)

Humfrey (1621-1719) was a reformed puritan.



Edwards, John

The Arminian Doctrines Condemned by the Holy Scriptures, by Many of the Ancient Fathers, by the Church of England.. in Answer to Daniel Whitby  (1711)  270 pp.

Veritas Redux: Evangelical Truths Restored: Namely, Those Concerning God’s Eternal Decrees, The Liberty of Man’s Will, Grace & Conversion, The Extent & Efficacy of Christ’s Redemption, & Perseverance in Grace  Buy  (1707)

This John Edwards (1637–1716) was a reformed Anglican.  He was one of the last prominent reformed divines of that era to teach the older reformed view of free will, just shortly before Jonathan Edwards in America was promulgating a synthesis of Calvinism and Enlightenment philosophy on the will.

“So that God’s decree is the cause of their necessity, contingency, spontaneity, and freedom.  All these different qualities which are in second causes or effects, are derived from the will of God, who appointed them to be of that nature.  It is He that fits necessary causes to necessary effects, and contingent ones to those that are contingent, and so on.  Whatever comes to pass necessarily, so comes to pass by virtue of the divine decrees; and whatever happens contingently, and etc. so happens because of the same decree.

The second causes do always retain their own particular nature and property, and their effects accordingly are necessary or causal, or proceed from mere sense or spontaneous motion, or from reason and will: but the first cause is immutable, and with respect to his foreknowledge and decree all effects and events are immutable, necessary, fix’d and stable, and cannot be otherwise.” – pp. 265-6

“They all happen and are according to the decree, but they are not caused by it, and therefore rational agents may act freely notwithstanding the preordination of God.  For the decree does not so affect the actions of men, as to lay any force upon the actors.  It is not denied that there is a necessity of the certain futurition of the acts and events, so that they shall infallibly and inevitably come to pass; but there is not on the things themselves or the actors a necessity, whereby the persons are forced to do what they do, and ot do it unwillingly.” – p. 266



Girardeau, John – The Will in its Theological Relations  (1891)  485 pp.

This is Girardeau’s book long critique of Edwards’ Freedom of the Will.

Here is a positive review of this work which mainly summarizes the viewpoint Girardeau advocates in his book, by Edward John Hamilton in The Presbyterian & Reformed Review.

Here is a critical review of Girardeau’s book by the southern Presbyterian, Henry Alexander White in the Presbyterian Quarterly.



van Asselt, Willem J. – Reformed Thought on Freedom: the Concept of Free Choice in Early Modern Reformed Theology  Buy  (2010)  243 pp.

“…the Fall causes a damage or loss of moral and spiritual freedom (man can no longer do the good or love God); the natural freedom, by which man’s will can choose between opposites without being necessitated towards one of both, remains after the Fall.  This natural freedom is essential to man, in the sense that without this freedom he would no longer be man as a rational and responsible creature.

The Reformed authors treated in this volume [Zanchius, Junius, Gomarus, Voetius, Turretin, de Moore] take pains to combine the permanence of essential freedom (presupposing contingency in reality) with the disastrous slavery of sin by which man’s will s bound (accounting for the factual impossibility of doing the good, since we can only do the good by loving and obeying God).

…human freedom does not go unqualified: man does not act out of nature, or contrary to the (ultimate) judgment of his intellect, or outside of God’s providence.  Still, these forms of necessity obtain in terms of the necessity of the consequence by which the outcome (the consequent) is not made necessary in itself.” – p. 235

Yoo, Jeongmo – John Edwards (1637-1716) on Human Free Choice & Divine Necessity  Pre  Buy  (2013)  234 pp.

This John Edwards (1637–1716) was a reformed Anglican.  He was one of the last prominent reformed divines of that era to teach the older reformed view of free will, just shortly before Jonathan Edwards in America was promulgating a synthesis of Calvinism and Enlightenment philosophy on the will.

Muller, Richard – Divine Will & Human Choice: Freedom, Contingency & Necessity in Early Modern Reformed Thought  Excerpt  Buy  (2017)  336 pp.

“The views on contingency and freedom, including the assumption of alternativity [alternate choice, or the power to choose alternatives] in the definition of freedom, were in the main line of early modern Reformed theological and philosophical development…

The early modern Reformed argumentation… was capable of affirming human free choice as defined by intellective deliberation and multiple volitional potencies and as embodying genuine alternativity in a manner that does not comport with the assumptions of modern compatibilist [determinist] theology and philosophy.” – p. 311

“The language of synchronic contingency [something can be contingent in different ways at the same time, and that alternatives can be contingent possibilities at the same time]…  What makes the language interesting is its application to the particular case of the concurrent willing of two rational beings [God and a human person] involved in the actualization of one effect–a case in which both of the beings could will otherwise, but given that both wills taken together are the necessary and sufficient conditions for the actualization of the effect, both must be understood as freely concurrring to a single effect.  That is interesting.” – pp. 314-315

“The case of human freedom, as a species of contingency, is quite different: it references a genuine alternativity in human choice that is ontically [the order of being, not just in the order of knowledge] grounded in the divine decree, maintained in the providential concursus, and rooted in the potencies belonging to the will and the free determinations of the intellect.” – p. 316



Historical Theology

On the 1600’s

Beck, Andreas J. – Gisbertus Voetius (1589–1676) on God, Freedom, & Contingency  Pre  (Brill, 2022)  600 pp.  ToC



On the View of Thomas Aquinas

Feser, Edward – pp. 128-29  in ch. 4, ‘Psychology’  in Aquinas: a Beginner´s Guide (OneWorld, 2010)

Feser is an analytical Thomist.



On Jonathan Edwards



Fisher, George – ‘The Philosophy of Jonathan Edwards’  in North American Review 128/268  (1879), pp. 289-93



Foster, Frank Hugh – ch. 9, ‘The Development of the Theory of the Will’  1907  48 pp.  in A Genetic History of the New England Theology, pp. 224-272

Wright, Conrad – ‘Edwards & the Arminians on the Freedom of the Will’  in The Harvard Theological Review, vol. 35, no. 4 (Oct., 1942), pp. 241-61

Guelzo, Allen – ‘Calvinist Metaphysics to Republican Theory: Jonathan Edwards & James Dana on Freedom of the Will’  in Journal of the History of Ideas (July, 1995) 56(3), pp. 399-418



McCann, Hugh J. “Edwards on Free Will”  in Jonathan Edwards: Philosophical Theologian  ed. Helm & Crisp  Buy  (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2003), pp. 27-43

“A critical response to Edwards’ treatise…” – Sam Storms

Muller, Richard

‘Jonathan Edwards & the Absence of Free Choice: A Parting of Ways in the Reformed Tradition’  (2011)  20 pp.  This is the article form of his audio lecture above.

Here is Paul Helm’s published rejoinder.  You may need to set up a free account to read it.

‘Jonathan Edwards & Francis Turretin on Necessity, Contingency & Freedom of Will. In Response to Paul Helm’  (2014)  19 pp.

Here is Paul Helm’s surrejoinder.  Muller dominates the exchanges.


Audio Lecture

Muller, Richard – “Jonathan Edwards & the Absence of Free Choice: A Parting of Ways in the Reformed Tradition”  71 min., Sept. 29th, 2010, at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, being the Inaugural Lecture for the Jonathan Edwards Center.  This lecture is in article form above.

“Jonathan Edwards is often regarded as an epitome of Calvinism for his teaching on the freedom of will, though he was, in his own time and for a century after his death, a much-debated thinker whose views polarized Reformed circles.

This lecture will concentrate on Edwards’s reception in Britain, which has received little attention despite its significance in the Reformed tradition. Concentrating on two historical contexts, Dr. Muller will consider the mixed reception of Edwards’ thought, note differences between Edwards and the older Reformed orthodoxy, and point to a parting of the ways in the Reformed tradition that took place largely in the eighteenth century.”



Fiering, Norman – Jonathan Edwards’s Moral Thought & Its British Context  Buy  (Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1981)  391 pp.

“A wide-ranging treatment of Edwards’ ethical theory with extensive discussion of his treatise on the will.” – Sam Storms

Guelzo, Allen C. – Edwards on the Will: A Century of American Theological Debate  Buy  (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1989)  349 pp.

“An encyclopedic treatment of the historical and theological context and aftermath of Edwards’ treatise.  One should also consult his article, “The Return of the Will: Jonathan Edwards and the Possibilities of Free Will,” in Edwards in Our Time: Jonathan Edwards and the Shaping of American Religion (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), pp. 87-110, where he address the relationship of Edwards’ theory to contemporary open theism.” – Sam Storms



On the Primacy of the Intellect?


On Maresius (Pro) & van Mastricht (Contra)

Hampton, Stephen – 1. ‘Free Choice’, pp. 229-30  in ‘Sin, Grace & Free Choice in Post-Reformation Reformed Theology’  in Lehner, Muller & Roeber, The Oxford Handbook of Early Modern Theology, 1600-1800  (Oxford, 2016)

“…one key prerequisite for human action [according to Maresius] is the ‘ultimate judgment of practical reason’–the discernment, by the intellect, of what course of action seems best in all the circumstances.  If free choice involved the potential to reject this judgment, then human beings would not be rational agents (Maresius 1646-48, 2:4).

For this reason, Maresius underlines that free choice cannot be identified solely with the will.  Choosing a course of action involves making an intellectual judgment about what should be done, which the will then follows as a matter of intrinsic necessity (Maresius 1646-48, 2:12).  That is why Maresius calls intellectual judgment the ‘prime mover’ of the human microcosm, ‘by which the will is determined to willing’ (Maresius 1646-48, 2:12).  It follows from this that free choice is incompatible with coercion; because if one is forced to act contrary to one’s intellectual judgment, then one’s choice is not free as Maresius understands it.  Free choice requires…  the freedom to act as one thinks best.

In Maresius’s conception of free choice, the will is invariably determined by the last judgment of practical reason; that, indeed, is what makes it a rational faculty.  But this view was not universal amongst the Reformed.  In his Theoretico-Practica Theologia, Petrus van Mastricht (1630-1706) notes Maresius’s position, but disagrees with it.

If Maresius were right, he argues, grace would only need to illuminate the human intellect for conversion to happen.  However, scripture makes clear that conversion requires not only a new mind but also a new heart (Ez 36:26), and that saving grace directly affects the will (Phil. 2:13).  Van Mastricht suggests, therefore, that the will only follows the judgment of practical reason when the judgment is congruous with its habitual disposition.  As a result, a sinful will may not automatically follow what the intellect judges to be the best course of action…  (Van Mastricht 1699, 383-84).”



Rutherford, Samuel – pp. 89-90  in the Appendix  to Peter van Mastricht, A Treatise on Regeneration…  (New Haven, 1770)  trans. by the anonymous editor from Rutherfords, Exercitationes Apologeticae pro Gratia Divina, p. 366

Rutherford’s view is similiar to that of Mastricht.

Turretin, Francis – Institutes  (P&R), vol. 1, 10th Topic

sections 7-8, 12, 15-17  in Question 2, ‘Whether every necessity is repugnant to freedom of will.  We deny against the papists and Remonstrants’, pp. 663-5

sections 7 & 14-15  in Question 3, ‘Whether the formal reason of free will consists in indifference or in rational spontaneity.  The former we deny; the latter we affirm against papists, Socinians and Remonstrants’, p. 666

van Mastricht, Peter – A Treatise on Regeneration…  (New Haven, 1770)

pp. 26-27 of section XV  in Doctrinal Part
section 26, pp. 37-39  in Elenchtic Part



On a Contingent Cause

Latin Articles


Voet, Gisbert – Syllabus of Theological Problems  (Utrecht, 1643), pt. 1, section 1, tract 3   Abbr.

Of Necessity & Contingency
Of Chance, Fortune & Fate



On a Free Cause


Aquinas – ch. 76, ‘Freedom of Choice in Intellectual Substances’  in Compendium of Theology, pt. 1



Latin Articles


Voet, Gisbert

Syllabus of Theological Problems  (Utrecht, 1643), pt. 1, section 1  Abbr.

tract 3

Of Necessity & Contingency
Of Chance, Fortune & Fate

tract 4

II. Of Enslaved & Free Choice

48. ‘An Explanation of Eccl. 9:11’  in Select Theological Disputations  (Amsterdam: Jansson, 1667), pp. 739-45

Eccl. 9:11  “I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.”




“And Micaiah said [to the king], ‘If thou return at all in peace, the Lord hath not spoken by me’…  And a certain man drew a bow at a venture, and smote the king of Israel between the joints of the harness…”

1 Kings 22:28,34

“And Jeroboam said in his heart, ‘Now shall the kingdom return to the house of David: If this people go up to do sacrifice in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, then shall the heart of this people turn again unto their lord, even unto Rehoboam king of Judah, and they shall kill me, and go again to Rehoboam king of Judah.’  Whereupon the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold…”

1 Kings 12:26-28

“I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live:”

Dt. 30:19




Related Pages

Natural vs. Moral Inability

Decrees of God

Doctrines of Grace

Total Depravity

Unconditional Election

Irresistible Grace