In part 3, scections III.I, III.II, and III.III, Edwards argues against the link between LFW and responsibility by appealing to divine impeccability as well as judicial hardening. He argues if God cannot sin, and a hardened man cannot do good, neither has freewill. But God is still worthy of praise and the hardened sinner is still to blame. So praise and blame do not require freewill.
The response is fairly straight forward. We agree that God cannot sin, and that sinners, without grace, cannot choose good. But does this mean that neither has LFW? No. Recall that LFW does not mean the ability to choose between good and evil. (link) God chooses between good alternatives and sinners, without softening grace, choose between evil options.
Imagine you dig $20 out of your couch cushion. With that $20 you could A) give it to church, or B) buy your mom flowers If you were impeccable, you could not C) buy drugs to get high. But you could still choose between the good options: A & B. In the same way God chooses between good options, even though He cannot sin.
Divine impeccability does not conflict with divine freedom, but some Calvinists hold to a concept which might conflict with divine freedom. Some Calvinists say God always chooses the greater good, and when He decreed all things, He created the best of all possible worlds.
I agree that it would be impossible for God to choose a bad world, because He’s good. But why assume there’s one “best world”? Why not many equally good worlds to pick from? Why can’t there be two or more equivalently good options for God? Seems to me if there’s one greatest good out there, and God’s nature predetermines Him to act on it, A) God is not free and B) that greatest good determines God and C) the greatest good is in some sense greater than God.
But in any case, the problem with Edwards’ argument isn’t divine impeccability; its his assumption that God only has one good option.
If anyone is concerned that the view that God cannot do evil is not Arminian, here’s Arminius’ thoughts: Arminius on God being necessarily good (see Article 22). Here’s another interesting article on the subject by Freddoso: Maximal Power.
God hardens sinners as a punishment for prior sins. Hardening is described as “adding iniquity to iniquity” (Psalms 69:27) and God “giving people up to their uncleanness, vile passions and debased mind” (Romans 1:18-32) and taking away what a person has (Mathew 13:12).
This hardening is a removal of “softening” grace. Oddly, it’s the exception that proves the rule. The hardened sinner is left in his totally depraved state, because prevenient grace is removed. But this makes no sense without prevenient grace. So hardening is evidence for prevenient grace.
Edwards argues that since hardened sinners cannot do good, they don’t have LFW. Since they don’t have LFW, and they still are responsible for their sin, LFW and responsibility are unrelated.
While hardening removes the option of doing good, it still leaves the sinner to choose between evil options. So they still have LFW. This is the flip side of divine impeccability. With the $20 they could A) buy drugs or B) buy porn, but not C) give the money to Church out of a heart filled with love for God.
Generally hardening leaves man with multiple sinful options. But in some cases God providentially uses the hardened sinner to accomplish some greater purpose. In these cases, God may desire one specific action to be performed. God uses His knowledge of how a person would freely perform under certain circumstances, to arrange for those circumstances to obtain the outcome He desires. God knows that the person can, but would not do otherwise than perform the action He wants. So they still have LFW, because they still can do otherwise, even though they will not.
God permits the sin, even though He hates it (Psalms 45:7), because He wants to use the person’s action to accomplish some greater purpose. (Genesis 50:20) In these cases, we must keep in mind the twofold impact of sinful choices. In the heart of the sinners, there is an evil transgression of the law. Externally, the sin might initiate a chain of events which change the course of history. It’s this second effect that God desires, not the first, because God hates sin.