Westminster Confession 9.1-3

westminster2Next time you hear someone say that Reformed Presbyterians don’t teach free will, gently inform them that they are quite wrong about that.  Tell them we have a whole chapter on free will in our confession and it begins with a hearty affirmation of it!
After surprising them a bit, you can then tell them that they are right that we don’t believe in free will the way some do.
We don’t believe in a free will that God has given man that in any way limits his absolute sovereignty.  That would be to relinquish his rule as God to man.  We believe that God remains on the throne and is sovereign over everything that comes to pass and yet he chooses to bring many things to pass through the free exercise of the will he has given to man.  It might be helpful for you to revisit chapter 5 on providence especially looking at sections 2 and 3 on God’s use of ordinary means within his plan and purpose.
Also we don’t believe that man after the fall is able to freely choose to trust, love, and obey God.  He still has a will which he exercises freely.  However when he freely exercises his will it is always done consistently with his fallen nature and his fallen desires.  Romans 8:7 says, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.”  Man still knows what is right because he is made in the image of God and sometimes even does what is right and good in itself (Romans 2:15) but they never do these things with faith, repentance, love to God, desire to please him, honor, or willingly obey him.  That fallen man cannot freely do apart from the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit.
In chapter 9 section 1 the confession lays out the biblical teaching that the will God has given to man does indeed have a “natural liberty, that is neither forced, nor by any absolute necessity of nature determined to good or evil.  This is an affirmation of liberty and a denial of all charges that sovereignty of God somehow necessitates determinism, fatalism, or coercion.
This means that in whatever condition that man is in, he is freely exercising his will and is not a robot.  He is never forced or coerced by God in an absolute sense such that he is no longer freely exercising his will.  As we said above even those following sin are freely exercising their will and that even when God has ordained their sin.  (Matthew 17:12, Acts 2:23-24)
section 2 and 3 look at man’s free will before the fall and after the fall respectively.
Before the fall man was created without sin and inclined to all good.  While still innocent of sin he was able to freely will and choose that which was good and pleasing to God.  Yet we know that he was not perfected (as we will be in glory) and so man was able to sin which he did in disobeying God and eating the forbidden fruit.
By this fall man came into a state of sin.  In himself he has lost all ability to will any spiritual good accompanying salvation.  He is averse to that spiritual good, dead in sin, and is unable to covert himself or prepare himself for conversion.  Understanding our condition before God ought to deeply humble us as we realize that we never would have loved God if he hadn’t first loved us and drawn us to himself (John 6:44)
Westminster Confession 9.1-3

I. God has endued the will of man with that natural liberty, that is neither forced, nor, by any absolute necessity of nature, determined good, or evil.[1]

II. Man, in his state of innocency, had freedom, and power to will and to do that which was good and well pleasing to God;[2] but yet, mutably, so that he might fall from it.[3]

III. Man, by his fall into a state of sin, has wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation:[4] so as, a natural man, being altogether averse from that good,[5] and dead in sin,[6] is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.[7]


[1] MAT 17:12 But I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them. JAM 1:14 But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. DEU 30:19 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.

[2] ECC 7:29 Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions. GEN 1:26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

[3] GEN 2:16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: 17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. 3:6 And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.

[4] ROM 5:6 For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 8:7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. JOH 15:5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.

[5] ROM 3:10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one. 12 They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.

[6] EPH 2:1 And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins. 5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved). COL 2:13 And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses.

[7] JOH 6:44 No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. 65 And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father. EPH 2:2 Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: 3 Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, 5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;). 1CO 2:14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. TIT 3:3 For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another. 4 But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, 5 Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.