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Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Liberty, the Seat of Moral Accountability


The question that always lurks behind the objection to the Edwardsian view of God’s determination of the human will is how can man be morally accountable for choices that are necessary and not free? In other words, if it is true that God knows the future choices of men because he has determined them and that free will is a philosophical surd, then how can man be held responsible for any choices whatsoever? The solution lies in the distinction between ability and liberty.

There are four states of man. (1) Man in the garden prior to the fall; (2) man after the fall yet prior to conversion; (3) converted man; and (4) glorified man. In all four states man does not have free will; for man cannot choose contrary to his is strongest inclination at the moment of choice; nor can man choose contrary to the truth of how he will choose. It is not as if prior to the fall Adam had free will and then lost it with sin, regaining it upon conversion, etc. Neither man nor God ever has free will.The seat of moral accountability is (a) liberty (the ability to choose what one wants), AND (b) the want of being able to choose contrary to how one will. With respect to liberty, man is morally accountable when he has the ability to choose as he wants; which is to say, man is morally accountable when he has liberty to act, which presupposes no prohibitors, whether they be economic, intellectual, physical, etc. Given liberty, it is necessary that man always choose according to his intentions and never contrary to them; for to act contrary to an intention is not to choose but to act irrationally, without intention. Accordingly, man is morally accountable when he has liberty yet no free will.

A man crippled in his legs from birth cannot be held responsible for not running around the back yard with his children. The reason being, he could not do so if he wanted. He has no liberty in other words, which is again the ability to choose as one wants. With respect to coming to Christ, God’s election of reprobates unto damnation does not prohibit them from acting according their desires and intentions. A reprobate does not lack liberty, the ability to act according to his desire or want of desire for Christ. Consequently, the reprobate is not at all like the crippled man who is prevented from running even given a desire to do so; for the crippled man cannot act according to a desire to run, whereas the reprobate can and does act according his intention toward Christ. A reprobate chooses to reject God, yet could embrace God if he so desired; whereas a crippled man cannot run with his children given a desire to do so. The difference is obvious. The reprobate has liberty, whereas the crippled man has none.

I’ve addressed the matter of the reprobate coming to Christ only because it is the most important choice one makes in his life. However, one should not become confused and think that some real choices are not determined and not according to one’s intentions and, therefore, "free." Some Calvinists wrongly think that reprobates are "free" except with respect to coming to Christ. That is false. No person is free to choose contrary to how he will, whether in the area of the gospel or in common life.
One last point:
Of course liberty is a sufficient condition for responsibility, which is not to say it is a necessary condition for responsibility. With respect to the former, if one has liberty to choose what he wants, he is responsible before God. If one due to his own sinful choices loses liberty, then of course he can still be held responsible for what he no longer has liberty to do. For instance, if one's sinful choice(s) prevents him from providing for his family, his lack of liberty to work due to having to serve prison time does not negate his responsibility to provide for his family. Accordingly, liberty is not always a necessary condition for moral responsibility but it is always a sufficient condition.

Ron

Related links from this Blog:

On free will: http://reformedapologist.blogspot.com/2006_03_01_reformedapologist_archive.html

On choosing contrary to what God knows:
http://reformedapologist.blogspot.com/2006/03/arminianism-in-light-of-future-tense.html

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