Is Hell Eternal?
Or Will God's Plan Fail
By Charles Pridgeon

Chapter Twenty-four: The Limitations of Human Freedom

Man would be a mere machine, and not a moral agent, if he had no freedom of will. In fact, there could be no moral responsibility if there was no freedom of will.

There is a universal consciousness that our wills are free. This consciousness involves some of our primal intuitions; we need no argument to prove the truthfulness of our intuitions; they are a part of our very nature. If we deny them, we deny ourselves and deny axiomatic truth; and that kind of truth we know in ourselves to be true without outside proof. We do not need any one to prove to us that the whole of anything is equal to the sum of all its parts--we know it. We do not need any one to establish by argument that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points, nor that every effect must have an adequate cause; neither do we need to prove that the human will is free; it is a fact of universal consciousness. In our experience we act in accordance with this fact--I will to stand or I will to sit; I will to walk or I will to ride. We have the power of originating action or of refraining from action by an act of our will.

It has been urged by some, with some show of reason, that man's decisions of will are always made according to motives, that, of necessity, we act on the strongest motives; and that the strongest motive is the one that will give us the greatest happiness. This line of reasoning would make a martyr and a murderer both act from a motive of self-love and it would reduce all life to a spirit of selfishness. We know that this is not the case.

We know also that we can choose a. distant good instead of a present gratification; but, as far as impulse is concerned, it is always strongest for immediate satisfaction. This very fact of so choosing indicates the freedom of the will. Further, it is impossible to thus speak of motives in reference to their strength, for they are of so many classes and kinds. Often a weak motive is followed and a strong one rejected.

The universal intuitions of mankind witness to the freedom of the human will. Any effort to prove that our wills are not free at all can proceed only by taking for granted the truthfulness of our universal intuitions. If we doubt some of them we will be compelled to doubt all, and that would end all reasoning and would deny the foundations of the consciousness of human personality and existence.

We are not affirming that the freedom of the human will is unlimited, but rather that it has many limitations. We are specially referring to the human will as we find it conditioned in time, and not carrying the discussion into the enlarged freedom of eternal relations, which we believe it had and will have again in eternity.

In speaking generally, we would say that we would expect limitations in the freedom of the will of any of God's creatures, by virtue of the fact of their being creatures, and, therefore, finite; finiteness always implies boundaries and limits. As we proceed we will attempt to be suggestive only and not exhaustive.

There are limitations of man's freedom in that the time, place, parentage, and environment were not chosen by him, and every one of these things limits him.

Man is limited by his physical: he could hardly choose to be an athlete if he were born with limbs that were almost useless.

Man's choice is limited by the degree of intellectual endowment that is given him. His whole outlook of life depends, among other things, upon his intellectual apprehension.

The inherited capabilities, desires, appetites, and tendencies are important factors in limiting man's freedom of choice.

The environment is also a potent factor, for his opinions are largely influenced by his companions and the spirit of his surroundings. Some are born in a moral and spiritual atmosphere; others are born in its exact opposite. There is no doubt that God takes all these factors into account, and that one's environment is the best under the individual circumstances.

A man's own life and habits condition him, and lessen or increase his freedom of choice as the ease may be. Men get into bondage by forming strong habits.

Man is the only one of God's creatures on the earth who can modify or improve his condition. The lower animals improve only under the influence or training of man.

To sum up, man is limited by what he is in himself and what is his by inheritance. Man is also limited by his environment, the forces and influences that act upon him from without.

Man is limited by his light, mental, moral, and spiritual. In every man there is always a large element of ignorance: his views are partial and prejudiced; and no two men see the same thing alike. The judgment upon man is to be proportioned to the light he has, and the light he might have had but has refused.

It was because of this element of ignorance or deficient light that our Lord prayed for His crucifiers, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." This prayer of our Lord did not indicate that they had no guilt. See another Scripture, "Him . . . ye have taken, and by wicked hands, have crucified and slain"; but the implication of the prayer is that they would not have done it if they had known all. This same lack of light, we believe, clouds the sky in the commission of all sin; and, besides, causes one to mingle with the bad motive, which dominates, some other good motive often of minor importance but put by self-deception in an influential place in the sinner's mind. Many a man, in stealing, says, "I have to provide for myself and my family." The murderer in some way has mingled something that is, at least, partly good as a motive in the committing of his crime. In dealing with thousands of cases in the ordinary walks of life and also in prison, reformatory, and rescue mission work there has never seemed to be an entirely unmixed motive of evil, there always seemed to be some element of good in the complexity of motives and always an element of ignorance. They are responsible up to their light, but it is possible to pray for them, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." (We have often thought that God could not twine His purposes of good with evil unless there was this element of ignorance and some little element of good in all evil. Man's first sin was mixed with good in partaking of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.) In reference to this most heinous sin of the universe, the crucifixion of our Lord, in the same sentence in which He tells them of their guilt He also says that God was fulfilling His purpose (Acts 2:23). God always makes the wrath of man to praise Him, and the remainder He restrains (Ps. 76:10). Some of the great thinkers in the early Church taught that evil could not exist unless mingled with some good; for it had no power of life in itself, and it was the perversion of something good. Wrong is right wrung, or twisted; when the twist is taken out, wrong has no existence.

The human will is limited by God's providence: this would belong to the general head of environment. Some men are ready to sin, but their will is limited by not having the opportunity. Some one has said in effect, "It is bad enough to have the inclination to sin, but inclination has to have its opportunity. Pray that inclination to sin and opportunity may not come together." God often limits human freedom by what may be termed His cutting off of opportunity. We may all thank God for His preventive providences.

It is by virtue of such considerations as the foregoing that we can understand how in all of God's sinful creatures there is ground left, which is often called nidus or "nest," for God's working in the heart of His fallen moral creatures. If it had not been for these elements when mankind fell, there would not have been any conscience at all left in fallen man; there would not have been any sense of dependence, nor any sense of sublimity, nor desire for rest and peace nor a hunger for love. And it is because of these remainders in man that he is capable of being saved. These are the marks of the original greatness of man, as we study the ruins. Even the great schemes of wickedness and colossal idolatry, the grossest debauchery and saturnalia all witness that man fallen, is "majesty in ruins," a prodigal son of God.

God has said to man's self-will, "thus far and no further." Had not God limited the freedom of man's will, he might have so sinned that there would have been nothing left for God to work upon: God in His wisdom and love gave the greatest degree of freedom that His creatures could have, but He set a bound, a wall. He says in effect, "I will not let them go so far that I can not overrule it for good (Rom. 8:28); I will not let them permanently resist My will, or right would not be right and I would not be God." Finite will can not hold out forever against Infinite Will. We have often personally felt and often said to the unconverted, "If you could see Christ and His salvation as we do, no one could prevent you from accepting Him." God will keep after His lost children till He gets them to the place where they can thus see. "And I, if I be lifted up . . . will draw all men unto Me" (John 12:32). The limitations of the human will will give the Omnipotent will His opportunity. There is mercy and love in our very defects and limitations.

In reference to the divine will, there are those who say that God only "wishes" the salvation of all men and does not "will" it. They support their view by the difference of opinion among Greek students as to the exact meaning of the two words for will," one, they claim means "wish" and the other "will." The Word of God removes this difficulty for it uses both words in speaking of God's will for the salvation of all.

"For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; Who willeth (thelo, Greek) all men to be saved and to come to the full knowledge of the truth" (1Tim. 2:3,4, literal).

"The Lord of the promise is not slow, as some men count slowness but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing (boulomai, Greek) that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2Pet. 3:9, literal).

The Omnipotent "wish" and the Omnipotent "will" shall certainly prevail.

"O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out! . . . For out of Him, and through Him, and into Him, are all things: to whom be glory for the ages. Amen" (Rom. 11:33,36, literal).

"For God (limited) or shut up together all for disobedience, so that He might have mercy upon all" (Rom. 11:32, literal).

Go to Chapters: (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9) (10) (11) (12) (13) (14) (15) (16) (17) (18) (19) (20) (21) (22) (23) (24) (25) (26) (27) (28) (29) (30)

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