The Divine Decrees and the Free Agency of Man
Ephesians 1:11
In whom also we have obtained an inheritance…

I. TO EXPLAIN AND ESTABLISH THE DOCTRINE OF THE DIVINE DECREES. The Divine decrees are the eternal purpose, will, or plan of God, whereby He hath, for His own glory, predetermined whatsoever has, or shall come to pass.

1. This purpose is eternal. If, therefore, God has existed from eternity, He has known from eternity what is the best plan by which to govern the universe; He has from eternity had a preference for that which is best, and from eternity determined to adopt and pursue it, and that is all that is intended by His eternal purpose — the determination of God, from all eternity, to do that, in every possible case, which it appeared most desirable to Himself that He should do.

2. His purpose is immutable. It cannot alter. An alteration in the Divine purpose would necessarily imply an alteration in the Divine mind, which would be, in fact, to suppose a fickle, changeable God.

3. His purpose is sovereign — not arbitrary. There are some who always understand the word sovereign as though it were synonymous with arbitrary; and, therefore, reject the idea of the Divine sovereignty altogether. No; in the purpose of God there is an end to be secured infinitely worthy of Himself, namely, His own glory; and that purpose is nothing more than the determination to secure this end by the best possible means. The sovereignty of His purpose lies in this, that it is perfectly independent of His foreknowledge, as its cause; and that in the adoption and prosecution of it, He is not, in any way, responsible to any of His creatures.


1. To constitute an accountable creature, or a free agent, there must be intelligence.

2. The exercise of will is absolutely essential to free agency, and it is in this especially that our own consciousness informs us our free agency consists. The actions which are not the result of choice or will, but contrary to it, are not, properly speaking, our own.

3. Where actions are concerned, sufficiency of means is also requisite to the constitution of a free agent, or an accountable creature. No man can be justly chargeable with guilt, in failing to accomplish what he had not sufficiency of means to perform.

III. THAT THE DIVINE DECREES, THUS UNDERSTOOD, AND THE FREE AGENCY OF MAN, THUS DEFINED, ARE NOT INCOMPATIBLE THE ONE WITH THE OTHER; in other words, that the purpose of God does not destroy the freedom of human actions. If, indeed, the doctrine of the Divine purpose be established, and the free agency of man admitted, then the proposition is at once demonstrated. It is not the fact, but the mode of that fact which is the subject of inquiry,

1. Hypothetical reasoning, or reasoning by supposition, is a legitimate mode of argument on topics such as these, where the object is not so much to establish the truth of a doctrine or proposition, as to show the possibility of its existence, by an appeal to some supposable cases. There are only two ways in which the Divine purpose or decree can be supposed to affect the free agency of man — either by rendering his actions certain, before they take place; or by compelling or constraining those actions against his will. Now, can we not suppose a finite being in every sense perfectly free — a being under no system of moral government whatever, left in every respect to himself, and whose actions should be, in the philosophical sense of the word, contingent? Would not such a being be allowed to possess every requisite qualification of a free agent? But the circumstance that all the actions of that being, and every volition of his mind, are perfectly foreknown by God, would not render them less free.

2. But we may appeal, as another ground of argument on this difficult subject, to our own consciousness. Are we ever conscious, either in our vicious or virtuous actions, of acting against our inclination? Were we ever conscious of choosing a thing against our choice, or of preferring a line of conduct contrary to our preference?

3. But we shall finally appeal to some scriptural illustrations of the doctrine. The first we shall introduce is that furnished by the text. Now the counsel and purpose of God are infallibly certain, but faith in Christ is the voluntary act of an intelligent creature; by this we mean, an act done with the full consent of the will. It may be asked, then, "Is the will of man free to receive or free to reject Christ, so that it can as easily do the one as the other?" We answer, No; for by reason of the Fall, his will has naturally a bias to that which is evil, and would, therefore, in every case, without a Divine influence, reject Christ. Here, then, is the difference between free agency and free will. A free agent is one who has the power of willing and of acting according as his will shall dictate! but free will, in its popular sense, is an ability, in the will itself, to choose good or evil; and this is not the case with man; for the will that spontaneously and of itself chooses holiness, cannot be a depraved will; this supposition would, therefore, falsify the doctrine of human depravity, and, at the same time, annihilate the doctrine of the influence of the Holy Spirit; for the will that can choose holiness without a Divine influence, does not require a Divine influence; and, therefore, the office of the Holy Spirit is, in that case, unnecessary. The will, indeed, is uncoerced; the idea of a coerced will is absurd. But the will of a finite being is limited and bounded by the circumstances of his nature, and in man that nature being fallen, limits the exercises of his will to that only which is in harmony with his fallen nature. While the will to sin, then, is perfectly free (we use the term as opposed to coercion), he cannot, from the very necessity of his nature, will holiness without a Divine influence on the heart; and that influence is such as not to coerce the will, or render the will to holiness less free than was the previous will to sin. The one was the will of a corrupt and depraved nature — the other is the will of a renewed nature, both equally uncoerced; but, in the one instance, the principle was from within himself — in the other, it was from God.

(T. Raffles, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will:

WEB: in whom also we were assigned an inheritance, having been foreordained according to the purpose of him who works all things after the counsel of his will;

The Christian Inheritance
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