Daniel D. Whedon Exposes the Calvinistic Charge of Free Will Exalting Man as Degrading the Very Sovereignty of God

Daniel D. Whedon (1808-1885), from his book, Freedom of the Will: A Wesleyan Response to Jonathan Edwards, asks and answers the concept, "Freedom Exalts Man and Dishonors God?" For ages Calvinists have been charging Arminians with the notion that free will exalts fallen sinners and dishonors God regarding His sovereignty and glory. What these Calvinists fail to consider is that their deterministic views strip God of His rightful sovereignty, as well as His omnipotence, and render the Almighty as an impotent Coward.

Moreover, these same Calvinists fail to consider the double standard they employ with regard to faith in Christ being meritorious or works-oriented in Arminianism. While we insist that faith is a grace-induced response to the work of the Holy Spirit within a person, and even St Paul himself insists that faith in Christ is not a work (Rom. 4:4, 5), Calvinists (e.g., J.I. Packer, R.C. Sproul, James White, John Piper) still charge that our freed will, freed to freely believe in Christ, represents some sort of lingering righteousness or goodness within us that would choose the good -- for faith in Christ is a good act.

But here is the rub: Calvinists then admit that God does not believe for us, and that even the Calvinist is believing in Christ for him- or herself, and yet that "good act" of faith in Christ is not deemed as meritorious and works-oriented. Why? They insist the answer is because faith is God's gift to them. But so do we! We did not resist this gift, and neither did the Calvinist, and both believe in Christ due to a work of the Holy Spirit.

The only difference between the two is that the Calvinist perceives of this gift as being the result of the alleged unconditionally elect first being regenerated, and thus the work is irresistible; while the Arminian conceives of the matter as being one of God's gracious, inner working, yet a work that can be resisted. Because we insist that the work is resistible, then our faith in Christ is viewed as meritorious and works-oriented, while their faith is the monergistic gift of God. While this is a convenient tactic of the Calvinist, Daniel D. Whedon turns the notion on its head, exposing it for what it is -- a degradation of the glory of our sovereign God. Daniel Whedon writes the following.


It is one of the deep statements of Whichcote: "Liberum arbitrium, Free Will, which men so brag of, as it includes posse male agere, the ability to do evil, is an Imperfection; for such liberty or power is not in God. To do amiss is not Power, but Deficiency and Deformity; and infinite Power includes not in it a Possibility of evil." It is a contrary statement, not so deep, of another writer (in a foreign Quarterly Review), "Pelagianism, and Arminianism, and modern Morrisonianism pander to the pride of human Will [like a proud peacock]; and to exalt man's Will would deny Will to God, negativing [negating] the decrees of God, and nullifying the Spirit's influence and special grace."

Neither of these conclusions, the deep one of the philosopher and the shallow one of the [Calvinistic] ranter, expresses the exact truth. It is not the power to do evil that is an imperfection; if it were, a statue would be in this respect superior to the first angels before they fell; but it is the evil exercise of that power which is the deficiency and the deformity. He who is right from incapacity is safely, but not nobly, nor meritoriously, right. It is the height of virtue to be in full possession of the mastery of both good and evil, and yet to do good alone. Such a mastery and supremacy belong in the highest degree to God. For it is eternally that he possesses full power for the choice of right or wrong; and it is eternally that he chooses solely right.

"To exalt man's will," which is the charge of the above ranter, is to exalt man in that respect in which he is in "the image of God," and in which to depreciate him below his measure is to dishonor his Original. But when we so exalt man's Will it is not merely to assert his dignity of nature, which in its place is a just procedure, but to show him responsible for his deeds, and to justify God in his judgments.

It is indeed an exalted prerogative to be a responsible subject of the Government of God; and it is but honoring that government to place in its full relief that faculty in which does mainly lie the qualification for that high citizenship. It is a foolish way, worthy the narrowness of a bigot, for the sake of humbling human pride to depreciate man's intellect and make him a brute, or to nullify his free agency and make him a block or a clock. The freedom of the Will in the moral agent does thus furnish the true condition for the moral government of God.

As a living being is superior to insensate matter [i.e., that which lacks physical sensation], and human intelligence is superior to living animal being, so of human intelligence the highest is free moral being. So far as we know, the highest declarative glory of God consists in the existence of his retributive moral government. But the very existence of such a government requires of God the concession to his creature of a power which in its course of action he will neither annihilate nor violate. Thus he is leaving the capability, but not the necessity, of freedom to sin, which is judicable, or freedom to good deserts, which is rewardable, and of a free holiness, worship, honor, and glorification of God, which are the highest results of a moral kingdom.


Denying the freedom of man does not honor but degrades God's sovereignty, sinking him from the position of a Ruler of free subjects to a manipulator of mechanisms. It takes from him the possibility of justice by making him propel the act he is to punish. Nor is there any ascription of meanness to God, i.e., more mean than that which makes him attempt to inaugurate a glorious free probationary system, and yet to fail, purely from a penurious [poor, destitute] grudging of the necessary bestowment of power to constitute a true responsible agent, and from a fear that the possession of an alternative power of Will by the finite agent might disturb the stability of the throne of the Omnipotent. The former is a parsimony [miser, stingy, extreme unwillingness], and the latter a cowardice, which is discreditable to any man to ascribe to the God of the universe.

If the maintenance of freedom of the Will "exalts man's Will," and the denial of it degrades the dignity of man's Will, the same denial must degrade the dignity of the Divine Will. The assertion, therefore, of the necessitation of the divine Will, so strenuously maintained by Edwards and other necessitarians [i.e., Calvinists, Determinists], does bring degradation and dishonor upon the divine Will. While, on the other hand, to maintain the freedom of the divine Will from any such causative determination of volitions is to maintain its dignity and honor.

Another argument against this view of divine sovereignty maintains that it is a supposition unworthy the divine dignity that any of his decrees or actions should be dependent upon the action of non-action of insignificant man. The assumption, we reply, that the action of God cannot be conditioned on the actions or other matters of a finite being (for it cannot be limited to the action, but must extend to every finite attribute of the creature), renders creation, preservation, government, retribution all alike impossible. In such case God cannot create a finite being, for the act of creation must be modified by, and conditioned upon the nature of the finite to be created. If he is to be one sort of a creature, one sort of creation must be performed; if another, another.

Preservation also must depend upon the actual existence, nature, and purpose of the creature to be preserved. Government requires laws that must depend upon the nature of the being or thing to be governed. No regard must be paid by God to prayer; nothing must take place in consequence of the prayers of the holiest finite being; for that would be making God's action dependent upon the action of a finite being, obliging him to wait until man performs before he can act. Nor can men be rewarded according to their works, blessed with heaven upon a life of faith and holiness, or cursed with hell on account of a life of wickedness. Such a doctrine shuts the Deity up in a dignified reserve from all the concerns of his creatures [like Deists maintain], making his sovereignty too exalted to be any sovereign at all. Nay, it deprives him of the power of producing any creatures, rendering a finite universe impossible.

Freedom is also held by necessitarians as attributing to man merit in exercising the act of faith and performing the conditions of salvation, so that heaven is attained not by grace, but by works. We reply,

1. By their own maxim of deserts necessitarians are as truly obliged to attribute merit to faith and works as freedomists. By that maxim it matters not how we come by our right volitions; whether by necessitation, causation, predestination, or creation, they are equally deserving of reward or condemnation. No matter, then, if our faith and works are foreordained, necessitated, created by the resistless influences of the Spirit, they are still volitions; are free with the highest degree of freedom conceivable, and are to be credited with all the merit, good deserts, and rewardableness that the loftiest Arminian can conceive. Thus, all the glory that Calvinism claims to itself for overthrowing human merit is thus by itself overthrown. It teaches by its fundamental maxim of merit the meritoriousness of human faith, and works, and that attainment of salvation by our own good deserts.

2. Faith is excellent and well-deserving. It would be derogatory to God to suppose that he would not choose a good and excellent act as antecedent to our justification. As between good and bad, faith is good and not bad; it is ethically right and not wrong. Unbelief and infidelity are wrong; faith and obedience are right. The very reason why faith is a fitting condition for salvation, and a right initiation of a holy life, is that it is in itself a self-surrender and self-consecration to God and to all his goodness. Performed following a previous gracious aid, God's prevenient grace, it is an instrumental channel to salvation and an act that is pleasing to God. And yet,

3. Such is not the merit of our faith that we thereby intrinsically deserve justification; nor such the merit of our good works as that we thereby earn eternal life. Notwithstanding our faith, God, apart from his gracious promises, is under no obligation to forgive our past sins; nor do our works form any purchase of so great a gift as heaven and endless glory. Absolutely at the moment of an act of complete faith God needs us not, and he might justly drop us into non-existence. So that after all we are his workmanship, and all our salvation is from the free and abundant grace of God.

If man's act of accepting faith is not free and a choice, able to be withheld as to be put forth, possessing the freedom from as well as the freedom to, then there is the potential of divine government, but only an automatism. If man's will, in the given case, accepts divine grace, either by an intrinsic automatic spring of the Will, or by an omnipotent securing touch of the spring of the Will by the divine finger, then the very conditions of a free probationary system are destroyed. Men are the mechanically moving figures of a great panorama, and God himself is but a mechanical counterpart -- both forming one stupendous reciprocal interactive automatism. Herein, Dr. Chalmers assures us, lays the vital point of difference between Calvinism and Arminianism; and herein, we reply, lays the difference between a divine government and an automatism.


Daniel D. Whedon, Freedom of the Will: A Wesleyan Response to Jonathan Edwards (Eugene: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2009), 268-71.


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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.