Thomas Ralston on Freedom of the Will Part 4: God’s Divine Administration

, posted by Ben Henshaw

Thomas Ralston begins his appeal to Scripture with his third evidence for self-determinism in his Elements of Divinity. My comments are in bold print.

3. Our third evidence of man’s proper free agency is founded upon the divine administration toward him, as exhibited in the Holy Scriptures.

Here we shall perceive that revelation beautifully harmonizes with nature; and those clear and decisive evidences of our free agency, which, as we have seen, are derived from experience and observation, are abundantly confirmed by the book of God.

(1) We see this, first, in contemplation of the condition in which man was placed immediately after his creation. A moral law was given him to keep, and a severe penalty annexed to its transgression. Upon the supposition that man was not made a free agent, God must have known it; and if so, under these circumstances to have given him a moral law for the government of his actions, would have been inconsistent with the divine wisdom; for a moral law, commanding what is right and prohibiting what is wrong, can only be adapted to beings capable of doing both right and wrong.

Suppose, when the Almighty created man capable of walking erect upon the earth, but incapable of flying in the air like the fowls of heaven, he had given him a law forbidding him to walk, and commanding him to fly, every intelligent being would at once perceive the folly of such a statute. And wherefore? Simply because man has no power to fly, and therefore to command him to do so must be perfectly useless. But suppose, in addition to the command requiring an impossibility, the severest penalty had been annexed to its violation, the administration would not only be charged with folly, but it would be stamped with cruelty of the deepest dye. Suppose again, that, circumstanced as man was in his creation, the law of God had commanded him to breathe the surrounding atmosphere, and to permit the blood to circulate in his veins, and a glorious promise of reward had been annexed to obedience. In this case, also, the law would universally be pronounced an evidence of folly in the Lawgiver; and why so? Because obedience flows naturally from the constitution of man. He can no more avoid it than a leaden ball let loose from the hand can avoid the influence of gravitation. In the former supposition, obedience was impossible, for man can no more fly than he can create a world; in the latter, disobedience is impossible, for man can no more prevent the circulation of his blood than he can stop the sun in his course. But in both cases the administration is marked with folly. Thus it is seen that a moral law can only be given to a being capable of both right and wrong. Hence, as God gave man a moral law for the government of his actions, he must have been a free moral agent, capable alike of obedience and of disobedience.

We think it impossible for the unbiased mind to read the history of the creation and fall of man, and not feel that in that case God treated him as a free moral agent. Upon the supposition that the will, and all the actions of man, are necessarily determined by the operation of causes over which he has no control, (according to the principles of necessity,) the administration of God, in the history of the fall of man, is represented as more silly and cruel than ever disgraced the reign of the meanest earthly tyrant! Against the administration of the righteous Governor of the universe, shall such foul charges be brought? Forbid it, reason! Forbid it, truth! Forbid it, Scripture!

Can a rational man believe that God would so constitute Adam in paradise as to make his eating of the forbidden fruit result as necessarily from his unavoidable condition as any effect from its cause, and then, with a pretense of justice, and a claim to goodness, say, “In the day thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die”? Surely, most surely, not. The whole history of the Fall, in the light of reason, of common sense, and in view of all that we know of the divine character and government, proclaims, in language clear and forcible, the doctrine of man’s free moral agency. (pp. 188-189)

In fact, the only way for determinism to remain consistent is to admit that God caused Adam to sin and then visited punishment on him and all creation for doing the very thing that God ordained for him to do. Some Calvinists will say that Adam had the power of self-determination while his posterity lost that constitution in the fall, but this destroys other cherished Calvinist doctrines. If this were the case then the Calvinist must admit that God could foreknow Adam’s free choice without rendering it necessary by way of divine decree which would land them squarely in the Arminian camp with regards to God’s ability to foreknow true contingencies.

If Calvinists want to deny that God can know anything that He did not Himself ordain and therefore render necessary, then the blame for Adam’s transgression must rest squarely on God. God did not “permit” the fall in Calvinism because permission is the language of libertarian freedom. If God did not permit the fall then only one thing remains: He caused it and is therefore the author of sin. More than that he is the only sinner since He is the only true actor in the universe if the power of self-determination is completely denied. He then punishes His creatures with eternal torments for doing the very thing that God ordained for them to do. Ralston well said: “Forbid it, reason! Forbid it, truth! Forbid it, Scripture!”

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