The early Church on Free-Will

As these quotes show; it was the Pagans, Gnostics and Heathens that denied free-will.

The Early Church on Free Will:

1 Clement 7:5 Let us review all the generations in turn, and learn how from generation to generation the Master hath given a place for repentance unto them that desire to turn to Him.

Ignatius to the Ephesians 10:1 And pray ye also without ceasing for the rest of mankind (for there is in them a hope of repentance), that they may find God. Therefore permit them to take lessons at least from your works.

Justin MartyrChapter 28 “For He fore-knows that some are to be saved by repentance, some even that are perhaps not yet born. In the beginning He made the human race with the power of thought and of choosing the truth and doing right, so that all men are without excuse before God; for they have been born rational and contemplative.”

IrenaeusChapter 10 “For, although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the import of the tradition is one and the same. For the Churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain, nor those in Gaul, nor those in the East, nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world. But as the sun, that creature of God, is one and the same throughout the whole world, so also the preaching of the truth shineth everywhere, and enlightens all men that are willing to come to a knowledge of the truth. Nor will any one of the rulers in the Churches, however highly gifted he may be in point of eloquence, teach doctrines different from these (for no one is greater than the Master); nor, on the other hand, will he who is deficient in power of expression inflict injury on the tradition. For the faith being ever one and the same, neither does one who is able at great length to discourse regarding it, make any addition to it, nor does one, who can say but little diminish it.”

Book 2Chapter 5 “For a law would not be imposed upon one who had it not in his power to render that obedience which is due to law; nor again, would the penalty of death be threatened against sin, if a contempt of the law were impossible to man in the liberty of his will. So in the Creator’s subsequent laws also you will find, when He sets before man good and evil, life and death, that the entire course of discipline is arranged in precepts by God’s calling men from sin, and threatening and exhorting them; and this on no other ground than that man is free, with a will either for obedience or resistance.”Chapter 6 “But although we shall be understood, from our argument, to be only so affirming man’s unshackled power over his will, that what happens to him should be laid to his own charge, and not to God’s, yet that you may not object, even now, that he ought not to have been so constituted, since his liberty and power of will might turn out to be injurious…Therefore it was proper that (he who is) the image and likeness of God should be formed with a free will and a mastery of him self;… At present, let God’s goodness alone occupy our attention, that which gave so large a gift to man, even the liberty of his will.””But the reward neither of good nor of evil could be paid to the man who should be found to have been either good or evil through necessity and not choice. In this really lay the law which did not exclude, but rather prove, human liberty by a spontaneous rendering of obedience, or a spontaneous commission of iniquity; so patent was the liberty of man’s will for either issue.It is, no doubt, an easy process for persons who take offence at the fall of man, before they have looked into the facts of his creation, to impute the blame of what happened to the Creator, without any examination of His purpose. To conclude: the goodness of God, then fully considered from the beginning of His works, will be enough to convince us that nothing evil could possibly have come forth from God; and the liberty of man will, after a second thought, show us that it alone is chargeable with the fault which itself committed.”

Methodius – 260-312 A.D. Bishop of Olympus.

‘Now those who decide that man is not possessed of free-will, and affirm that he is governed by the unavoidable necessities of fate…are guilty of impiety towards God Himself, making Him out to be the cause and author of human evils.’

‘If then, any are evil, they are evil in accordance with the wants and desires of their minds, and not by necessity. They perish self-destroyed, by their own fault.’For a man is not spoken of as ‘murderer’ but by committing it he receives the derived name of murderer. Evil is not a substance, but by practicing any evil it can be called evil…for a man is evil only in consequences of his actions. For he is said to be evil because he is a doer of evil. It is a persons actions that gives them the title of evil. Men produce the evil and are the authors of them. It is through actions that evil exists. Each man is evil in consequences of what they practice. It all has a beginning.

‘Because there is nothing evil by nature, but it is by use that evil things become such…man was made with free-will, not as if there were already evil in existence, which he had the power of choosing if he so wished, but on account of his capacity of obeying or disobeying God. For this was the meaning of the gift of free will.’

‘For man received power, and enslaved himself, not because he was overpowered by irresistible tendencies of his nature, nor because the capacity with which he was gifted deprived him of what was better for him…I say therefore, that God purposing thus to honor man…has given him the power of being able to do what he wishes, and commends the employment of his power for better things; not that he deprives him again of free will, but wishes to point out the better way. For the power is present with him and he receives the commandment; but God exhorts him to turn his power of choice to better things.’

‘I say that man was made with free will, not as if there were already existing some evil which he had the power of choosing if he wished… but that the power of obeying and disobeying God is the only cause.’

Arnobius 297-303 A.D.

Does He not free all alike who invites all alike? Or does He thrust back or repel any one from the kindness of the supreme, who gives to all alike the power of coming to Him. To all, He says, the fountain of life is open, and no one is kept back or hindered from drinking. If you are so fastidious as to spurn the kindly offered gift… why should he keep on inviting you, while His only duty is to make the enjoyment of His bounty depend on your own free choice. Book 2 ,64

Aristides of Athens

‘And when a child has been born to one of them, they give thanks to God, and if furthermore, it happen to die in childhood, they give thanks to God the more, as for one who has passed through the world without sins.’ Apology to HadrianTatian the Syrian 110-172 A.D.

‘And each … was made free to act as it pleased, not having the nature of good, which again is with God alone, but is brought to perfection in men through their freedom of choice alone, in order that the bad man may be justly punished, having become depraved by his own fault, but the just man be deservedly praised for his virtuous deeds, since in the exercise of his free choice he refrained from transgressing the will of God. Such is the constitution of things in reference angels and men.’

Justin Martyr 110-165 A.D.

‘ …We have learned from the prophets and we hold it to be true that punishments … and good rewards are rendered according to the merit of each man’s actions. Since if it be not so, but all things happen by fate, neither is anything at all in our own power… Unless the human race has the power of avoiding evil and choosing the good by free choice, they are not accountable for their actions, of whatever kind they may be. But that it is by free choice they both walk uprightly and stumble, we thus demonstrate.’ First apology ch.18

‘But neither do we affirm that it is by fate that men do what they do, or suffer what they suffer, but that each man by free choice acts rightly or wrongly…The stoics, not observing this, maintained that all things take place according to the necessity of fate. But since God, in the beginning made the race of men and angels with free will they will justly suffer in eternal fire the punishment of whatever sins they have committed, and this is the nature of all that is made, to be capable of vice and virtue. For neither would any of them be praiseworthy unless there were power to turn to both. (vice and virtue) 2 Apology ch.7Irenaeus 120-202

‘And again, who are they that have been saved, and received the inheritance? Those doubtless who do believe in God and who have continued in His love… and innocent children, who have had no sense of evil.’

‘This expression… ‘How often would I have gathered… and you would not.’ Set forth the ancient law of human liberty, because God made a man free(agent) from the beginning, possessing his own power, even as he does his own soul, to obey the behests of God voluntarily, and not by compulsion of God. For there is no coercion with God but a good will towards us is present with Him continually; and therefore does He give good counsel to all. And in man, as well as in angels, He has placed the power of choice… so that those who had yielded obedience might justly possess what is good, given indeed by God, but preserved by themselves.Lactantius 260-330 A.D.‘ We should be free from vices and sin. For no one is born sinful, but if our affections are given to that direction they can become vices and sinful, but if we use our affections well they become virtues.’ Ch 16 bk 4 Divine Inst.

Ignatius: 35-107 A.D. Forth Bishop of Antioch in Syria, Cornelius being the first. ‘I do not mean to say that there are two different human natures, but all humanity is made the same, sometimes belonging to God and sometimes to the devil. If anyone is truly spiritual they are a person of God; but if they are irreligious and not spiritual then they are a person of the devil, made such not by nature, but by their own choice. Pg.61 vol. 1.

Clement A.D.95 Bishop of Rome

‘Thus although we are born neither good nor bad, we become on or the other and having formed habits, we are with difficulty drawn from them.’ Pg 273 vol.8

‘But inasmuch as inborn affection towards God the creator is sufficient for salvation to those who love Him, the enemy tries to pervert this affection in men, and to render them hostile and ungrateful to their Creator…But if mankind would turn their affection towards God, all would doubtless be saved, even if when they have some faults they would be open to correction for righteousness, but now most of mankind have been made enemies of God, their hearts the wicked one has entered, and has turned aside towards himself the affection which God the Creator had implanted in them, which He, God, desires that they might have towards Him. Pg.101 Vol.8Justin Martyr (c110-165)

Dialogue cxli: God, wishing men and angels to follow His will, resolved to create them free to do righteousness. But if the word of God foretells that some angels and man shall certainly be punished, it did so because it foreknew that they would be unchangeably, but not because God created them so. So if they repent all who wish for it can obtian mercy from God.

Irenaeus of Gaul (c 130-200)

Against Heresies XXXVII: This expression, “How often I would have gathered thy children together, and thow wouldst not,” set forth the ancient law of human liberty, because God made man a free agent from the beginning, possessing his own soul to obey the behests of God voluntarily, and not by compulsion of God. For there is no coercion with God, but a good will towards men is present with Him continually… in man as well as angels, He has placed the power of choice. is possessed of freewill from the beginning, and God is possessed of freewill in whose likeness man was created.

Athenagoras of Athens(2nd century)

Embassy ofr Christians XXIV: Just as with men who have freedom of choice as to both virtue and vice(for you would not either honor good or punich the bad; unless vice and virtue were in their own power, and some are diligent in the matters entrusted to them, and others faithless), so is it among the angels.

Theophilus of Antioch (2nd century)

To Autolycus xxvii: For God with power over Himself made man free, and now God vouchsafes to him as a gift through His own philanthrophy and pity, when men obey Him. For as a man, disobeying, drew death on himself; so, obeying the will of God, he who desires is able to procure for himself everlasting life.

Titan of Syria (2nd century)

Address, xi: Why are you “fated” to grasp at things often, and often to die? Die to the world, repudiating the madness that is in it. Live to God, and by apprehending Him lay aside your old nature. We were not created to die, but we die by our own fault. Our freewill has destroyed us; we who were free have become slaves; we have been sold through sin.

Bardaisan of Syria (c154-222)

Fragments “How is it that God did not so make us that we should not sin in incur condemnation?” – if man had been mande so, he would not have belonged to himself but would have been the instrument of him that moved him… And how, in that case, would a man differ from a harp. on which another plays; of from a ship, with another guides: where the praise and blame reside in the hand of the performer or the sterrsman… they being only instruments made for the use of him whom is hte skill? But God, in His benignity, chose not so to make man; but by freedom He exalted him above many of His creatures.

Clement of Alexandia (c150-215)

Stromata, Bk ii chapter 4: But we who have heard by the Scriptures that self-determining choice and refusal have been given by the Lord to men, rest in the infallible criterion of faith, manifesting a willing spirit, since we have chosen life and believe God through His voice.

Tertullian of Carthage (c155-225)

Against Marcion, Book ll chapeter 5: I find, then, that man was by God constituted free, master of his own will and power; indicating as by this constitution of his nature… you will find that when He puts before man good and evil, life and death, that the entire course of discipline is arranged in precepts by God’s calling men from sin, and threatening and exhorting them; and this on no other ground than that man is free with a will either for obedience or disobedience or resistance.

Origen (c185-254)

De Principiis, Preface: Now it ought to be known that the holy apostles, in preaching the faith of Christ, delivered themselves with the utmost clearness on certain points which they believed to be necessary for everyone… This also is clearly definded in the teaching of the church that every rational soul is possessed of freewill and volition.

Novatian of Rome (c200-258)

On the trinity, chapter 1: He also placed man at the head of the world, and man, too, made in the image of God, to whom He imparted mind, and reason, and foresight, that he might imitate God.. And when He had given him all things for his service, He will that he alone should be free.

Methodius of Olympus (c260-311)

The Banquet of the Ten Virgins xvi: Now those who decide that man is not possessed of freewill, and affirm that he is governed by the unavoidable necessities of fate… are guilty of impiety toward God Himself, making Him out to be the cause and author of human evils.

Arnobius of Sicca (c253-327)

Against Hethen 64: I reply: does not He free all alike who invites alike? or does he thrust back or repel anyone from the kindness of the Supreme who gives to all alike the power of coming to Him? To all, He says, the fountian of life is open, and no one is hindered or kept from drinking. Nay, my opponent says, if God is powerful, nerciful, willing to save us, let Him change our dispositions, and compel us to trust in the Supreme God, but a childish and vail strife in seeking to the the mastery. For what is so unjust as to force ment who are reluctant and unworthy, to reverse their inclination; to impress forcibly on their minds what they are unwilling to receive. and shrink from.

Cyril of Jerusalem (c310-386)

Lecture iv 18: Know also that thou hast a sould self-governed, the noblest work of God that gives it ummortality, a living being rational, imperishable, because of Him that bestowed these gifts; having free power to do what it willeth.

Gregory of Nyssa (c335-395)

On Virginity (3G8) chapter XII: being the image and the likeness of the Power which rules all things, man kept also in the matter of a freewill this likkeness to Him whose will is over all.

John Chrysostom (347-407)

On Hebrews, Homily 12: All is in God’s power, but so that our freewill is not lost… It depends therefore on us and on Him. We must first choose good, and then He adds what belongs to Him. He does not precede our willing, that our freewill may not suffer. But when we have chosen, then He affords us much help… It is our to choose beforehand and to will, but God’s to perfect and bring to the end.

Posted in Early Christian Writings, Free-Will, Reformed Theology
3 comments on “The early Church on Free-Will
  1. The people in the quotations are truly unguided by the blessed Holy Spirit and need God to open their understanding like of Lydia. They are not inspired by God because their writing marred by errors. John Gill, C.H. Spurgeon, John Calvin are better then them because they understand the truth that the only have free will is God alone and we human have will but very limited. Joh 6:44 No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. Rom 9:16 So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.

  2. The Pilgrim says:

    John Calvin etc were the ones misguided.

    God’s Right to Save Whom He Wills, Independent of Man’s Tradition
    Verses 14-16
    What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.” So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.
    Luk 13:24 Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able. Many Jews to this day remain in the same unbelief Paul dealt with: they embrace the additions and subtracts of the Word taught in the Talmud, and seek to be justified before God by man made tradition, which makes the Word of God of none effect.
    Here Paul maintains that even though some Jews would be lost, there is no unrighteousness with God. He is certainly allowed to have mercy on whomever HE WILLS. He does not have to conform to Jewish traditional thought, and save all those–and only those–who circumcise their children. God’s Word tells us plainly the man upon whom GOD WILLS to have mercy:
    He who covers his sins will not prosper, But whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy. (Prov. 28:13)
    For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments. (Ex. 20:5-6)
    Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. (Matt. 5:7)
    Likewise, Scripture tells us who will NOT have mercy:
    Those who regard worthless idols forsake their own mercy. (Jonah 2:8)
    For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. (James 2:13)
    God has never been under any obligation to be merciful to the majority of the Jews, who were refusing to repent and rejecting Jesus Christ, clinging to the (racist) idol of Jewish nationalism as a means of salvation.
    Remember, Paul’s topic is about how most of the physical descendants of Abraham were rejecting the gospel, and not all the physical seed of Abraham are the children of God (vs. 7). Just as God sovereignly chose Jacob (the nation) to bring Jesus to the world–even though tradition would have chosen Esau–God has the right to sovereignly choose whom to save based on His own will. Just because the Jews WILLED to be saved based on race or tradition, and just because they called Abraham their father–this did not make them saved. They would have to meet God’s conditions by which He chooses to save men. To learn those conditions, you have to look elsewhere in the Scriptures. God chooses to save all those who have the FAITH of Abraham–not the blood of Abraham (study Galatians 3 and Romans 4.) This promise is open to all, both Jews and Gentiles. Neither the will of man nor the traditions of man will ever change that.

  3. The Pilgrim says:

    Joh 6:44 No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.

    Carry on reading.

    “It is written in the prophets, `and they shall all be taught of God`. Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to me. (John 6:45)

    Please stop twisting the bible and taking verses out of context.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow me on Twitter
%d bloggers like this: