Robert Rollock on Near and Remote Power to do Good


Rollock was a prominent minister and very influential professor of theology in Scotland. He was one of the primary developers of covenant theology and a fountainhead for theology for the Scots during the following centuries.




A Treatise of God’s Effectual Calling, Chapter 37, ‘Of Man’s Free-Will’, in Select Works of Robert Rollock, vol. 1, pp. 254-259

Yet I like best this description—to wit, that liberty of will should be [defined], in respect of good and evil things, for concerning them the controversy is, it is, I say, a power of the will, or a certain right it has, whereby of itself, and of its own inward and natural motion, without constraint, it wills only that [which] is good—it chooses the good—it wills not that [which] is evil—it rejects that [which] is evil;—in one word, liberty of will is a power unto good, not to evil.

…to conclude, the same is showed in the example of Adam, and of his state before his fall; for then truly the liberty of his will was to will good only, and not both good and evil; that is, he did not so will good as if he might nil it, except you understand a remote power; whereas we, by this word liberty, to speak properly, do understand a more near faculty of the soul.

I call that a remote faculty which is incident to the matter, as is the power or property of laughter in the body of a man, before it has either form or life.  I call that a near faculty which is incident to the form, as laughter in a man that has life.  So in the will of man there is a remote power, as appertaining to the matter, and there is a near power, as pertaining or consequent to the form; but we, as a little before we spake, by liberty understand not that remote power, which is consequent to the form; and by the form we understand that sanctity which is according to the image of God, which is the soul, as it were, of our soul, and without which our soul is, as it were dead.  For which cause, the apostle says, Eph. 2:1, that without this holiness we are truly said to be ‘dead in sins and trespasses.’  Whence I conclude, that the liberty of will is properly a power or faculty, which is a consequent of sanctity, as of the formal cause, and, as it were, the very soul of the will.  Whereby it comes to pass, that the will in this state, without constraint, does incline only to good, and does decline from evil; for this liberty of a man’s will is according to the similitude and image of the liberty of God Himself.  Unto this liberty, constraint is opposite, proceeding from some outward agent, and is contrary to the nature of the will; for it is not a will if it be constrained, neither is it said that the will is constrained, albeit man himself, in whom the will is, may be sad to be constrained.  I say that constraint is opposite to liberty and not necessity; for those things which we will or nil freely, we will or nil those things of necessity; first, because of the necessity of God’s decree; secondly, because of the incident form of the will itself, as of holiness, of corruption, or both.  As when man was holy in his creation, so long as that holiness continued, of necessity he did will that which was good, and nil the evil.  So the blessed angels of a certain necessity will that is good, and nil the evil, and at length, when man is glorified, he shall incline to good and decline from evil; so man being wholly corrupt before his regeneration, of a certain necessity, he wills the evil, and nils that is good, and notwithstanding after his manner he does will freely, albeit this be not a true liberty, as we shall hereafter see.  To conclude, a man regenerate partly of necessity he does will good, in respect of his new birth; partly of necessity he does will evil; for that he is as yet partly corrupt, yet in both respects he wills freely; for we must distinguish between necessity and constraint, for necessity is more general and large than constraint is, for that which is constrained is necessary, but, on the contrary, that which is necessary is not constrained.  And thus much concerning the liberty of the will in general.

Concerning the second state of man [out of four: in paradise, fallen, regenerate, and glorified], the question is, whether man in the state of corruption now has liberty of will?  I answer, if you follow the former definition of liberty, I do not deny that in things indifferent he has his liberty, but in things simply good and evil he has not liberty.  For man, which is wholly corrupt, does not so will evil as that he may or can nil it; neither does he so reject that [which] is good as that he may or can will it, except you understand a power remote; for in man unregenerate that near power of the will is only inclined to evil, because of the form of corruption and of impurity which does wholly possess his will.  But if you follow the latter definition of liberty, then verily we cannot ascribe that liberty of the will which is according to the image of the liberty of God Himself, and is a near power or faculty, and whereby without constraint he is carried to that only which is good—we cannot, I say, truly attribute this to the unregenerate and his will.   For a faculty to evil cannot truly be said [to have] a liberty, but rather a certain servitude.  And in verity the unregenerate man’s will is not free but bound; yet, because the unregenerate does not will evil by constraint, but of his own accord and mere motion, in some sort it may be said that his will is free.

…And if any sanctity, which is the soul of our soul, remain in man after the fall [as the Papists say], why is man said after the fall before regeneration, to be dead and not half-dead?  We forbear to use testimonies of Scripture in this matter, which are infinite.  And as concerning the liberty or self-power which they ascribe to the will of man, how many evidences of Scripture might be produced to repel the same!  John 6:44, ‘No man can come to me, except the Father which sent Me draw him.’  Rom. 8:7, ‘The wisdom of the flesh, it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.  1 Cor. 2:14, ‘The natural man perceives not the things that are of God; for they are foolishness to him, neither can he discern them.’  These places of Scripture, and other such like, are to be understood of that near power of the will unto good, which, therefore, the Scripture denies in his corruption, because there is in him no holiness left since the fall of Adam.  For as touching the remote power of the will unto good, which is a consequent of the matter, not of the form, we do not deny that it is in the will of a man unregenerate, and that it also becomes of a remote power a near power, so soon as any holiness is wrought in the will of man by the Spirit of Jesus Christ.  Seeing, then, we leave this remote power to the will of the unregenerate man, that is, a certain power of the cause material, there is no cause why our adversaries should say that we make men very stocks and blocks, because we deny free-will unto them.  For this power of the material cause unto good, which we ascribe unto the will of man unregenerate, may not truly be ascribed to any dead stock or trunk.

We must understand in this place, that whereas we deny this near power to the unregenerate, that is, a liberty to good; we mean hereby that which is good, as it is truly good. 




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