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The Philocalia Of Origen -Origen

Of Free Will, with an explanation and interpretation of those sayings of Scripture which seem to destroy it; such as the following:—

a.              “The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh.”

b.              “I will take away their stony hearts, and will give them hearts of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep mine ordinances.”

c.              “That seeing they may not see, and hearing they may hear and not understand, lest haply they should turn again, and it should be forgiven them.”

d.              “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that hath mercy.”

e.              “It is of God both to will and to do.”

f.              “So then he hath mercy on whom he will, and whom he will he hardeneth.”

1. Since the doctrine of a righteous judgment of God forms part of the preaching of the Church, and that doctrine if believed to be true stimulates the hearers, of course consenting that praiseworthy or blameworthy conduct is in our own power, to live good lives and by all means to avoid sin, come let us briefly discuss a few points connected with Free Will, for the subject is of the utmost importance. And that we may understand what Free Will is, I must unfold the meaning of it, so that when this is cleared up the question may be accurately stated. Now of things that move, some have the cause of motion in themselves, while those of a different kind are moved only from without. To this latter class belong portable things only, for example, wood and stones, and all matter which is held together by its constitution only. And on this occasion we will not apply the term “motion” to the flux of bodies, for it is not necessary for our purpose. But animals, plants, and generally whatever is held together by a natural soul, including metals, as some say, have the cause of motion in themselves. Besides these, fire is self-moved, and so perhaps are fountains. And of things which have the cause of motion in themselves, some are said to be moved of themselves, others by themselves; lifeless things of themselves, living things by themselves. And the living things are moved by themselves when there arises within them a phantasy, that is, a desire or feeling, which calls forth an instinct. And, again, in certain of the living creatures the phantastic nature not only calls forth an instinct, but does so regularly; for instance, in the spider a “phantasy” of weaving arises and the instinct to weave follows, its phantastic nature regularly urging it to do so, the creature having been entrusted with nothing more than its phantastic nature; and in the bee the instinct is to make cells of wax.

2. The rational creature, however, in addition to its phantastic nature has reason, which distinguishes between the phantasies, rejecting some, approving others, so that the creature may be guided accordingly. Now it is the nature of reason to have promptings to the contemplation of virtue and vice; and if, yielding to these promptings, we choose the former and shun the latter, we deserve praise for devoting ourselves to the practice of virtue, or blame if we take the opposite course. We must not, however, fail to remark that, though for the most part the nature of animals is adapted to all their needs, it is so in varying degrees, sometimes more, sometimes less; so that hounds in hunting and horses in war are not, if I may say so, far from the rational creature. Now, whether something external shall chance to excite this or that phantasy in us, confessedly does not rest with us; but it is for reason and nothing else to decide whether we shall use what has happened in a particular way or otherwise, reason either urging us, according to its promptings, to follow our better and nobler instincts, or misleading us so that we do the reverse.

3. If any one says that the outward world is so constituted that one cannot resist it, let him study his own feelings and movements, and see whether there are not some plausible motives to account for his approval and assent, and the inclination of his reason to a particular object. To take an illustration, suppose a man to have made up his mind to exercise self-control and refrain from sexual intercourse, and then let a woman come upon the scene and solicit him to act contrary to his resolution; she is not cause sufficient to make him break his resolution. It is just because he likes the luxury and softness of the pleasure, and is unwilling to resist it, or stand firm in his determination, that he indulges in the licentious practice. On the contrary, the same thing may happen to a man of greater knowledge and better disciplined; he will not escape the sensations and incitements; but his reason, inasmuch as it is strengthened and nourished by exercise, and has firm convictions on the side of virtue, or is near to having them, stops the excitements short and gradually weakens the lust.

4. Now, when the facts stand thus, to excuse ourselves by putting the blame on outward things, declaring ourselves to be like wood and stone drawn hither and thither by the outward things that move them, is neither truth nor candour, and no one but a man who wishes to give a false conception of Free Will would make such a statement. For if we were to ask him what Free Will is, he would say that my will is free when I purpose to do something, and nothing from without opposes and incites to the contrary. And again, on the other hand, to blame our mere natural constitution is absurd; for reason takes and teaches the most licentious and savage men, if they will but follow her exhortation, and changes them, so that the exhortation is very efficacious, and the change for the better very great; and the most licentious men frequently surpass in goodness those who do not at first seem likely to be licentious by nature, while the most savage men change and become so gentle, that men who were never so savage as they, seem savage in comparison with some individual who has adopted gentler ways. On the other hand, we see men of a different type, men of the utmost steadiness and gravity, turning aside to low amusements, and thus stripped of their steadiness and gravity; so that they change to licentiousness, oftentimes beginning this licentiousness in middle life, and falling into disorderly ways after that, in the natural course of things, the unsteadiness of youth has passed away. Reason then shows that outward things are not in our own power, but that it is our business to make reason inquire and judge how we ought to meet any particular combination of circumstances, and turn it to account this way or the contrary.

5. That it is our business to lead a good life, and that God asks this of us, inasmuch as it does not depend on Him, and does not come from some different god, or, as some suppose, from fate, but is a matter for ourselves, the prophet Micah will testify, when he says, “Was it shewed thee, O man, what is good? What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justice, and love mercy, and to be ready to walk with the Lord thy God?” And Moses, “I have set before thee the way of life and the way of death. Choose the good, and walk therein.” And Esaias, “If ye be willing, and will hearken unto me, ye shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse, and will not hearken unto me, the sword shall devour you: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.” And in the Psalms, “Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways! I should soon have subdued their enemies, and turned my hand against those that oppress them”: which shows that it was in the power of the people to hearken and walk in the ways of God. And the Saviour says, “But I say unto you, Resist not him that is evil”; and, “That every one who is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment”; and, “Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” And if He gives any other commandments, He speaks on the supposition that it is in our power to keep what is enjoined; and with good reason, if we are to be in danger of the judgment for transgressing them. Whence also He says, “Every one which heareth these words of mine, and doeth them, shall be likened unto a wise man, which built his house upon the rock”; and so on. “But he that heareth and doeth not, is likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand”; and so on. And, speaking to those on the right hand, “Come, ye blessed of my Father,” and so forth; “for I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink”; which shows very clearly that because they deserve to be praised He gives them the promises. And, on the contrary, He says to the others, because in comparison with them they deserved to be blamed, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into the eternal fire.” And let us see how Paul also discourses to us on the supposition that we have Free Will and are ourselves responsible for being lost or saved. “Or despisest thou,” he says, “the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up for thyself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; who will render to every man according to his works: to them that by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honour and incorruption, eternal life: but unto them that are factious, and obey not the truth, but obey unrighteousness, shall be wrath and indignation, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that worketh evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Greek; but glory and honour and peace to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” There are, indeed, countless passages in the Scriptures which very clearly support the doctrine of Free Will.

6. But since certain passages in the Old Testament and in the New tend to the opposite conclusion, viz. that it is not in our power to keep the commandments and be saved, or to transgress them and perish, let us in turn take some of these, and look at the explanations of them; so that a reader studying our examples may similarly pick out for himself all the passages which seem to destroy Free Will, and may consider the way to explain them. No doubt what is related of Pharaoh, concerning whom God says repeatedly, “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart,” has troubled many. For if he is hardened by God, and sins because he is hardened, he does not cause himself to sin, nor, if this is so, is Pharaoh a free agent; and similarly, some one will say that the perishing are not free agents, and that their perishing will not be their own doing. Again, in Ezekiel it is said, “I will take away their stony hearts, and will give them hearts of flesh: that they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances.” This is disturbing, for it seems to say that God gives the power to walk in the statutes and to keep the ordinances, inasmuch as He has taken away that which hinders, viz. the stony heart, and has put in them something better, the heart of flesh. Let us look, too, at the passage in the Gospel, where the Saviour replies to those who asked why He spoke to the multitude in parables. “That,” He says, “seeing they may not perceive; and hearing they may not understand; lest haply they should turn again, and it should be forgiven them.” Further, in Paul we find, “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that hath mercy.” And elsewhere, “It is God that worketh in you both to will and to do.” And in another place, “So then he hath mercy on whom he will, and whom he will he hardeneth. Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he still find fault? For who withstandeth his will?” And “This persuasion is of him that calleth and not of ourselves.” “Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God?” And again, “Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why didst thou make me thus? Or hath not the potter a right over the clay, from the same lump to make one part a vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?” This in itself is surely enough to greatly trouble most readers, and give the impression that man is not a free agent, but that God saves and destroys whomsoever He wishes.

7. Let us begin, then, with what is said about Pharaoh’s being hardened by God, so that he might not let the people go; and with this shall also be examined the apostolic statement, “So then he hath mercy on whom he will, and whom he will he hardeneth.” And since some heterodox thinkers use these passages, themselves almost destroying Free Will, for the sake of introducing perishing natures incapable of being saved, and different natures which are being saved, because they cannot possibly be lost; and since they say that Pharaoh being of a perishing nature was therefore hardened by God, Who hath mercy on the spiritual, but hardeneth the earthy; come, let us see what it is they mean. We will ask them if Pharaoh was of an earthy nature; and if they answer “Yes,” we will tell them that the man with an earthy nature is altogether disobedient to God; and if he be thus disobedient, what need is there for hardening his heart, and this not once but many times? Unless perhaps (seeing that it was possible for him to obey, and he certainly would have obeyed, inasmuch as he was not earthy, because he was put to shame by the signs and wonders) God wanted him still more disobedient for the sake of showing forth mighty deeds to the saving of the many, and therefore hardened his heart. This shall be our first argument against them in order to overthrow their assumption that Pharaoh was of a perishing nature. And we shall give the same answer respecting the Apostle’s statement. Does God really harden any? Does He harden the perishing, because He believes that they will be partially obedient unless they are hardened? or, forsooth, those who would be saved, because they have not a perishing nature? And on whom hath He mercy? Is it on those who will be saved? But what need have they of a second mercy, seeing that once for all they have been so fashioned that they will be saved, and that they are certain to be blessed on account of their nature? Unless, perhaps, since it is possible for them to perish if they have not mercy shown them, they have mercy shown them, so that they may not incur destruction to which they are liable, but may come to be numbered with those who are being saved. This is our reply to those men.

8. But we must raise another question in reply to those who think they understand the word “harden.” What do they mean by saying that God by His operation hardens the heart, and what is His object in so doing? Let them, at all events, keep to a conception of God consistent with His being really just and good. If they object to this, let us for the present waive the point, and only say just; and I invite them to show how the good and just God, or the just God, to say no more, manifests His justice by hardening the heart of a man who is perishing through being hardened; and how the just God can be the cause of a man’s disobedience and destruction, seeing that men are punished by Him for their hardness and because they do not obey Him? And why does God also blame Pharaoh, saying, “Thou wilt not let my people go. Behold, I smite all the first-born in the land of Egypt, and thy first-born”; and whatever else is recorded as spoken by God to Pharaoh through the mouth of Moses. Any fair-minded man who believes that the Scriptures are true, and that God is just, must do his best to show how in using such expressions God is clearly understood to be just; for if any one should have the effrontery to stand up and denounce the Creator for His wickedness, we should want other arguments to answer him. But since our opponents say they are disposed to regard Him as just, and we regard Him as both just and good, let us consider how the good and just God could harden the heart of Pharaoh.

9. Let us see, then, whether an illustration which the Apostle used in the Epistle to the Hebrews will help us to show how by one operation God hath mercy on whom He will, and hardens whom He will; not that God intends to harden: God’s purpose is merciful; but the hardening is a result thereof, through man’s inherent wickedness, and God is therefore said to harden him that is hardened. “The land,” he says, “which hath drunk the rain that cometh upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them for whose sake it is also tilled, receiveth blessing from God: but if it beareth thorns and thistles, it is rejected and nigh unto a curse; whose end is to be burned.” So then, in respect of the rain there is one operation; but while there is one operation in respect of the rain, the land which is tilled bears fruit, and the land which is neglected and barren bears thorns. It would sound harsh for the sender of the rain to say, “I made the fruits and the thorns to grow that are in the land”; but however harsh it might sound, it would nevertheless be true. For if there had been no rain, there would have been neither fruits nor thorns; but because there were seasonable and moderate rains, both fruits and thorns grew. It is the land which hath drunk the rain that cometh frequently upon it, and beareth thorns and thistles, that is rejected and nigh unto a curse. So then, the blessing of the rain came also upon the inferior land; but it was the inherent badness of the land, left uncared for and uncultivated, which caused thorns and thistles to grow. Similarly, God’s marvellous doings are, as it were, the rain; but men’s different purposes are, as it were, the cultivation or neglect of the land; the nature of the land is one and the same.

10. Suppose the sun were to speak and say, “I melt and dry up.” Melting and drying up are the contraries of one another, but it would not speak falsely, because of the subject matter: wax being melted, and clay dried up, by one and the same heat. Similarly, the one operation of God by means of Moses proved the hardening of Pharaoh on account of his evil disposition, and the obedience of the mixed multitudes of the Egyptians who went out with the Hebrews. And the brief statement that the heart of Pharaoh was somewhat softened, inasmuch as he said, “Only ye shall not go very far away: ye shall go a three days’ journey, but leave your wives”; and whatever else he said, slightly yielding to the marvellous deeds of Moses, shows that the signs produced some effect upon him, but not the full effect. Now there would not have been even this degree of softening, if, as is thought by the many, the meaning of “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart” is that the hardening was effected by God Himself. And it is not absurd to tone down the harshness of such expressions as we do in common life. It often happens that kind masters say to their servants, who are being ruined by their kindness and forbearance, “I have spoiled you”; “I am to blame for such and such offences.” We ought to attend to the nature and force of what is said, and not quibble because we do not plainly catch the meaning of the expression. Paul, at any rate, no doubt after careful inquiry, says to the sinner, “Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and long-suffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? But, after thy hardness and impenitent heart, treasurest up for thyself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.” Now, let us suppose that what the Apostle says to the sinner is addressed to Pharaoh, and we see how well the declaration would suit him; for after his hardness and impenitent heart he was treasuring up for himself wrath; and his hardness would not have been so clearly proved, nor have been so manifest, if the signs had not been wrought, or, if they had been wrought, but had not been so many and so great.

11. But since such interpretations are far from convincing and are thought to be forced, let us look at the word of Prophecy, and see what the many say who have experienced the abundant goodness of God though they may not have lived good lives, but afterwards sinned: “O Lord, why dost thou make us to err from thy way? Wherefore hardenest thou our heart that we fear not thy name? Return for thy servants’ sake, the tribes of thine inheritance, that for a little while we may inherit thy holy mount.” And in Jeremiah, “O Lord, thou hast deceived me, and I was deceived: thou art stronger than I, and hast prevailed.” For when the suppliants for mercy say, “Wherefore hardenest thou our heart that we fear not thy name?”, the meaning is, in effect, something like this: “Wherefore didst thou spare us so long, not visiting us to take vengeance on our sins, but leaving us alone until our offences became so great?” God leaves the greater number of men without chastisement, so that the character of each one may be thoroughly tested from our voluntary conduct, and that through the trial the good may be made manifest, and the rest, not without being known,—I will not say to God, for He knows all things before they begin,—but to the rational creatures and themselves, may afterwards light on a way of healing; for they would never have realised the benefit, if they had not condemned themselves; and this is expedient for every one, that he may perceive his own peculiar nature and the grace which God gives. But if a man does not perceive his own weakness and the grace of God, though he be benefited without having had experience of himself and without having condemned himself, he will imagine that the blessing bestowed upon him by the grace of heaven is his own brave and manly conduct. And this supposition, filling him with pride, will be the cause of his downfall; as we think happened to the Devil, because he gave himself credit for the privileges which he enjoyed when he was blameless. “For every one that exalteth himself shall be humbled,” and “Every one that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” Consider, further, that for this cause the Divine mysteries are hidden from the wise and understanding, viz. that, as the Apostle says, “No flesh may glory before God”; and they are revealed to babes, who, when they have passed their infancy, have come to better things, and remember that if they have reached the height of blessedness, the credit is not so much due to themselves as to the unspeakable bounty of God.

12. So then, he that is left without chastisement is so left by the Divine judgment, and God is long-suffering towards some sinners, not without reason, but because it will be good for them, having regard to the immortality of the soul and eternal life, that they be not too soon assisted in the attainment of salvation, but be slowly brought thereto after they have had experience of much evil. For as physicians, though they might quickly cure a man, will adopt the opposite of remedial measures whenever they suspect lurking mischief, because by so doing they mean to make the cure more permanent, and think it better to keep the patient for a long time in feverishness and sickness, so that he may make a sounder recovery, than that he should soon seem to pick up strength, but suffer a relapse, and the too hasty cure prove to be only temporary: so God also, knowing the secrets of the heart and having foreknowledge of the future, in His long-suffering perhaps lets things take their course, and by means of outward circumstances draws forth the secret evil, in order to cleanse him, who through neglect, has harboured the seeds of sin; so that a man having vomited them when they have come to the surface, even if he be far gone in wickedness, may afterwards find strength when he has been cleansed from his wickness and been renewed. For God governs the souls of men, not, if I may so speak, according to the scale of an earthly life of fifty years, but by the measure of eternity; for He has made the intellectual nature incorruptible and akin to Himself; and the rational soul is not debarred of healing, as if this present life were all.

13. Now let us make use of the following illustration from the Gospel: There is a rock with a scanty surface soil; if the seeds fall into that soil, they quickly spring up, but when they have sprung up, once the sun is risen, they are scorched and wither away because they have no root. Now this rock is the soul of man, hardened through neglect, and through wickedness turned to stone; for no man’s heart is created stony by God, but it becomes such through wickedness. Suppose one were to blame the husbandman for not sowing his seed on the rocky ground earlier, because some other rocky ground which had received the seed was seen to be flourishing; the husbandman might reply, “I will sow this land later when I have dressed it with what will keep back what I intend to sow; for the slower and safer method will suit this land better than it would the land which takes the seed sooner and more superficially”; we should give the husbandman credit for speaking reasonably and for understanding his work. So, too, the great Husbandman of every nature puts off the well-doing, which might too soon be reckoned such, in order that it may not be superficial. But some one may here object, “How is it that some of the seeds fall upon the soul which is like a rock with its thin covering of soil?” In reply, let us say that it is better for such a soul which has too hastily resolved on the higher life, and is not treading the path which leads to it, to get what it wishes, so that, condemning itself for its impatience, it may have long patience hereafter to receive its natural cultivation. For our souls, so to speak, are countless, and their characters countless, and their emotions, dispositions, purposes, and instincts innumerable; there is but One Who ordered them, and He the Best; He understandeth the seasons, and the proper helps, and the ways of guidance, and the paths, the God and Father of All, Who knoweth how He is guiding even Pharaoh through many experiences and through the drowning in the sea, though His ordering of Pharaoh’s welfare does not end there. For Pharaoh was not destroyed when he was drowned. “In the hand of God are both we and our words: All wisdom also and knowledge of workmanship?” So far, briefly, in defence of the statement that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and in explanation of the words, “On whom he will he hath mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.”

14. Now, let us look at the passage from Ezekiel, “I will take away their stony hearts from them, and will give them hearts of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep mine ordinances.” If God when He wishes takes away their stony hearts and puts in them hearts of flesh, so that His ordinances are kept and His commandments observed, the putting away of wickedness does not depend upon ourselves. For the taking away of stony hearts can have but one meaning, viz., that from whom God chooses, the wickedness in which any man is hardened is put away; and as for the creating of a heart of flesh, that a man may walk in the ordinances of God and keep His commandments, what does this mean but that the man begins to yield, does not stubbornly withstand the truth, and has the power to practise virtue? And if God promises to do this, and until God takes away the stony hearts, we do not put them away, it is clear that the putting away of our wickedness does not depend upon ourselves; and if we contribute nothing towards the creation within us of the heart of flesh, but it is the work of God, it follows that a virtuous life will not be our work, but altogether [the work of] Divine grace. This is what any one will say who from the bare words seeks to destroy Free Will. In reply we shall say that we ought thus to understand these passages. Suppose some one ignorant and uneducated to become conscious of his defects, either through the admonition of his teacher, or simply of himself, and then to put himself in the hands of a man whom he thinks capable of leading him into education and virtue; when he thus surrenders himself, his instructor promises to take away the lack of education and to give him an education; not, however, as though the educating and the escape from the want of it in no way depend on the pupil having offered himself for treatment: he only promises to benefit his pupil because he desires to improve. Thus the Divine Word promises to take away the wickedness, which it calls the stony heart, of those who come to it, not if they are unwilling, but if they submit themselves to the Physician of the sick; just as in the Gospels, the sick are found coming to the Saviour and begging to be healed and restored to health. We may say that if the blind received their sight, it was the doing of the sufferers, inasmuch as they believed they could be restored and begged the blessing, and that it was the Saviour’s doing, inasmuch as He did restore their sight. So, also, the Word of God promises to implant knowledge in those who come to it, by taking away the stony and hard heart, that is to say, their wickedness, so that a man may walk in the Divine commandments and keep the Divine ordinances.

15. Then there was the passage from the Gospel, in which the Saviour said that His reason for speaking to those without in parables was, “That seeing they may not perceive, and hearing they may not understand, lest haply they should turn again, and it should be forgiven them.” Our opponents will say, “If it is certainly the case that some hearers turn because they hear clearer teaching, and so turn that they become worthy of the forgiveness of sins, and whether they hear the clearer teaching or not does not depend upon them but upon the teacher, and the reason why he does not speak to them more clearly is that they may not see and understand, their salvation does not depend upon themselves; and if this is so, we are not free agents as regards salvation and perdition.” If it were not for the additional words, “Lest haply they should turn again, and it should be forgiven them,” it would be a convincing reply to say that the Saviour did not wish those who were unlikely to become good and upright to understand the deeper, mystical truths, and He therefore spoke to them in parables; but, as it is, when we find the words, “Lest haply they should turn again, and it should be forgiven them,” our defence is more difficult. In the first place, then, we must note the passage in connection with the heterodox, who hunt up such portions of the Old Testament, because in them, as they make bold to say, the cruelty of the Creator shows itself, the spirit of revenge and retaliation which bad men display, or whatever they like to call it, their only object being to prove that there is no goodness in the Creator; and in reading the New Testament they do not accord it fair and equal treatment, but dismiss such passages as resemble those they think deserving of censure in the Old Testament. For the Saviour is clearly shown in the Gospel, and they themselves so take the above words, to have had this motive in not speaking plainly, viz. “That men may not turn, and having turned become worthy of remission of sins”—a passage which in itself rivals any like it from the Old Testament which are impugned. But if they seek a defence of the Gospel, we must ask them whether their inconsistent treatment of similar questions is not culpable, inasmuch as they take no offence at the New Testament but seek to defend it, while they attack the Old Testament for such-like things, though they ought to defend them like those from the New Testament. And let us hereby teach them on account of the resemblances to consider all as the Scriptures of one God. Now let us offer the best defence we can in the matter before us.

16. When we were investigating the story of Pharaoh we said that sometimes a too rapid cure is not for the good of the patients; for if, having got themselves into trouble, they were to be relieved of their sufferings on easy terms, they would think little of the evil because it was soon cured, and through not being on their guard against falling into it would fall into it again. Wherefore, in such cases the Eternal God, Who knoweth the secret things and knoweth all things before they be, according to His goodness will not give the sufferers too speedy assistance, and, if I may so say, helps them by not helping them, because that is best for them. It is probable, then, that those “without,” of whom we are speaking, inasmuch as the Saviour saw, as we suppose, that they would not be steadfast in their conversion if they clearly heard what He said, were so treated by the Lord that they should not distinctly hear the deeper truths; lest haply, having turned too quickly, and having been healed by gaining forgiveness, they should despise the wounds of their wickedness as trifling and easily cured, and again, even more quickly than before, suffer from them. Perhaps also, while paying the penalty for their former sins, offences against virtue which they committed through forsaking her, they had not filled the proper time; so that, being forsaken of the Divine superintendence, and having had enough of the evils which they themselves sowed, they are afterwards called to a more steadfast repentance, and will not speedily fall into the sins into which they fell before, because they mocked at the worth of goodness, and abandoned themselves to the lower life. Those, then, who are said to be “without,” of course as compared with those “within,” inasmuch as they are not very far distant from those within, these last being the inner circle who hear distinctly, hear indistinctly because they are addressed in parables, but they do hear. Others, again, of those “without,” they who are called the people of Tyre, although it was foreknown that they would long ago have repented, sitting in sackcloth and ashes, if the Saviour came near their borders, do not even hear what He said to those “without.” The reason probably is that these Tyrians were far less deserving than those “without”; and the Saviour intended that at another season, when it has become more tolerable for them than for those who did not receive the Word, and who reminded him of the Tyrians, they may hear under more favourable conditions, and may more steadfastly repent. And observe whether, as we prosecute the inquiry, we do not more and more strive to every way preserve piety towards God and His Christ, endeavouring, for we know how marvellous these things are, to defend by all means the manifold providence of God Who taketh thought for an immortal soul. If, indeed, any one should ask concerning those who were reproached by the Saviour, because, though they saw marvellous things and heard Divine words, they did not profit, while the Tyrians would have repented if such things had been said and done among them: if he were to raise the question and ask, Why in the world did the Saviour preach to such people to their hurt, so that a heavier burden of sins might be imputed to them? we must reply that He Who understands the dispositions of those who blame His providence, and say that it explains their unbelief, because it has not granted them to see what it privileged others to behold, and has not arranged for them to hear what others have heard to their profit, He, inasmuch as He wishes to show the unreasonableness of their defence, grants those things for which the accusers of His government ask, so that after they have received them they may none the less be convicted of deep impiety, seeing that they do not surrender themselves that they may be profited, and may therefore cease from such audacity; and, being so far free, may learn that God sometimes lingers and delays out of kindness to some men, not granting them to see and hear things which, if seen and heard, would convict them of still more grievous sin, forasmuch as after such mighty works they did not believe.

17. Now let us look at the words, “So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that hath mercy.” They who take hold of the passage say, “If it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that hath mercy,” salvation does not depend upon ourselves, but upon the way they are constituted by Him Who makes them what they are, or on the choice of Him Who hath mercy when He pleases! We must ask the objectors this question: Is the willing that which is good a good or a bad thing? and the running of the man who wishes to reach the goal by zealously pursuing that which is good, is this deserving of praise or blame? If they tell us that it deserves blame, their answer will be absurd, for the saints will and run, and, of course, herein do nothing deserving blame. If they say that to will that which is good is good, and to run after that which is good is good, we will ask how the perishing nature wills the better course; for it is like a bad tree bearing good fruit, if willing the better course is really good. And, thirdly, they will say that to will that which is good and run after that which is good belongs to the class of things indifferent, and is neither good nor bad. In reply to this it must be said that if willing the good and running after the good is a thing indifferent, then its opposite is also a thing indifferent, that is to say, willing that which is evil and running after that which is evil. But, in fact, to will that which is evil and run after that which is evil, is not a thing indifferent. Therefore, to will that which is good and run after that which is good, is not a thing indifferent.

18. Some such defence as this, I think, we can offer to the words, “So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that hath mercy.” In the Book of Psalms Solomon says (for he is the author of the Song of Ascents which we are about to quote), “Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.” He does not mean to dissuade us from building, nor is he teaching us not to watch so as to guard the city of our soul, but he is showing that what is built apart from God, and is not blessed with His guardianship, is built in vain and kept to no purpose, because God might reasonably have been called the Lord of the building, and the Master of the Universe, the Ruler of the guard of the city. Suppose, therefore, we were to say that such a building is not the work of the builder, but God’s work; and that if the city has suffered nothing from its enemies, success is not to be attributed to the watchman, but to God over all, we should not err: for it is understood that man plays his part, though the manliness and virtue is thankfully ascribed to God Who brought it to perfection. Similarly, inasmuch as human willing is not sufficient for the attainment of the end in view, nor the running, as if we were athletes, sufficient for grasping the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus, for these results are secured with God’s assistance, it is well said that “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that hath mercy.” The same might be said of husbandry, as it is written, “I planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase”; and if there are abundant fruits, we could not with piety say that this is the work of the husbandman, or the work of him that watereth, but the work of God; so also our perfecting is not brought about if we do nothing at all, though it is not completed by us; but God effects the greater part of it. And that what we say may carry clear conviction, we will take an illustration from navigation. If we regard the winds that blow, the settled state of the weather, and the brightness of the stars, all contributing to the safety of those on board, how much could we credit seamanship with for bringing the vessel into harbour? The shipmasters themselves from motives of piety do not often venture to affirm that they have saved the ship, but ascribe everything to God; not as though they had done nothing, but because Providence has contributed to the result immensely more than their skill. And certainly in the saving of our souls what God gives is immensely more than what comes from our own ability; and this, I think, accounts for the words, “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that hath mercy.” For if we must take the words, “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that hath mercy,” as our opponents suppose, the commandments are superfluous, and Paul to no purpose blames some for having fallen into sin, and congratulates others on their uprightness, and lays down laws for the churches; and on their showing it is useless for us to devotedly will the better life, useless to earnestly resolve to run. But not in vain does Paul give his advice, blaming some, congratulating others; and not in vain do we devotedly will the better life and press on to things which excel. So, then, they have not well understood the passage.

19. Besides these there is the passage, “It is God which worketh in you both to will and to work.” Some say, “If the willing comes from God, and the working from God, even if we will badly and work badly, God is the original source of our so doing; and if this be so, we are not free agents. On the other hand, when we will what is better and work the things that excel, since the willing and the working come from God, it is not we who have done the things that excel; we, indeed, seemed to do them, but the doing them was God’s gift; so that, according to this also, we are not free agents.” In reply, we have to say that the Apostle’s language does not imply that the willing of evil, or the willing of good, is of God, and similarly, the working of what is better or worse, but willing and running in general. For as it is from God that we are living creatures and men, so also it is from Him that we have the power of willing in general, as I said, and the power of motion in general. And as, although in virtue of our being living creatures we have the power of motion and can move the members of our bodies, our hands or feet, for instance, we could not reasonably say that the specific movement comes from God, the movements to strike, or kill, or take away another man’s goods, but must maintain that motion in general is indeed a gift from God, though we use it for either bad or good purposes: so the working which stamps us as living creatures, we have received from God, and the willing we received from the Creator; but we use that power of willing either for the noblest purposes, or for the opposite, and so also the power of working.

20. Still, the utterance of the Apostle will seem to force us to the conclusion that we are not free agents. Putting an objection, he says, “Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he still find fault? For who withstandeth his will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hadst thou made me thus? Or hath not the potter a right over the clay, from the same lump to make one part a vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?” A reader may well say, “If, as the potter from the same lump makes some vessels unto honour and some unto dishonour, so also God makes some unto salvation and some to perdition, it follows that we have nothing to do with our salvation or perdition: nor are we free agents.” Let me ask a reader who makes this use of the words, if he can imagine the Apostle contradicting himself. I do not think any one will dare say this. Well, then, if the Apostle does not contradict himself, how does the reader who thus understands him mean to show that the Apostle reasonably finds fault when he blames the Corinthian fornicator, or those who fell into sin and did not repent of the lasciviousness and incontinence which they committed? And how is it that he blesses for their well-doing those whom he praises, as, for instance, the house of Onesiphorus, saying, “The Lord grant mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus: for he oft refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain: but, when he was in Rome, he sought me diligently, and found me. The Lord grant unto him to find mercy of the Lord in that day.” Surely it is not consistent for the same Apostle to censure the sinner because he deserves blame, and congratulate the well-doer because he deserves praise; and, contrariwise, as if nothing depended on ourselves, maintain that the Creator of the world is responsible for one vessel being unto honour, and another unto dishonour. How can it be sound doctrine that, “We must all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he hath done, whether it be good or bad,” if they who have done evil have so conducted themselves because they were created vessels of dishonour, and they who have lived virtuous lives have done that which is right, because originally they were fashioned thereto and were vessels of honour? And again, is not what is said elsewhere inconsistent with the view that it is the fault of the Creator if “one vessel is in honour and another in dishonour,” as the critics infer from what we have quoted? “In a great house,” we read, “there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some unto honour and some unto dishonour. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, meet for the master’s use, prepared unto every good work.” For if he who purges himself becomes a vessel unto honour, while he who carelessly leaves himself unpurged becomes a vessel unto dishonour, the Creator cannot, so far as these words go, be held responsible. For the Creator makes vessels of honour and vessels of dishonour, not originally according to His foreknowledge, since He does not, according to it, condemn or justify beforehand, but He makes them vessels of honour who purge themselves, and them vessels of dishonour who carelessly leave themselves unpurged. So that from antecedent causes for making the vessels to honour and dishonour it arises that one man is to honour and another to dishonour.

21. But if we once admit that there are certain antecedent causes for one vessel being a vessel of honour, and another a vessel of dishonour, what absurdity is there in going back to the mystery of the soul, and understanding that there were antecedent causes for Jacob’s being loved and Esau’s being hated; as regards Jacob, before his assumption of a body, and as regards Esau, before he was conceived in the womb? At the same time it clearly appears that, so far as the subject nature is concerned, as there is one and the same lump of clay subject to the potter, out of which vessels are made to honour and dishonour: so, though there is one common soul nature subject to God, and, if I may so speak, one lump of rational subsistences, certain antecedent causes have made some men to be unto honour and others to dishonour. And if the Apostle’s question conveys a rebuke, “Nay, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? it perhaps teaches that he who has confidence towards God, as a man of faith and good life, would not have the question addressed to him, “Who art thou that repliest against God?” Such an one was Moses; for Moses spake, and God answered him by a Voice, and as God answers Moses, so also the holy man answers God. But he who has not this confidence, manifestly, either because he has lost it, or because he investigates these topics not from a love of learning but in a contentious spirit, and therefore says, “Why doth he still find fault? For who withstandeth his will?” this man would deserve the rebuke, “Nay, O man, who art thou that repliest against God?”

22. But to those who introduce different natures, and use the present passage in support, I have this to say: If they make good their contention that from one lump are made both those who are perishing and those who are being saved, and that the Creator of those who are being saved is the Creator also of those who are perishing, and if He is good Who maketh not only men who are spiritual, but also those who are earthy (for this is a consequence of their doctrine), it is nevertheless possible that a man who in the present time has through certain previous deeds of righteousness become a vessel of honour, may, if he do not the like things, nor such as befits the vessel of honour, become in a different age a vessel of dishonour; as, on the contrary, it is possible that although through causes prior to this life a man has here become a vessel of dishonour, when his faults have been corrected, he may become a vessel of honour in the new creation, sanctified and meet for the Master’s use, prepared unto every good work. And perhaps the Israelites of our day, if they live unworthily of their high descent, will degenerate, and change as it were from vessels of honour to vessels of dishonour; and many of the Egyptians and Edomites of the present time, whenever they shall bring forth fruit abundantly, will enter the Church of the Lord, being no longer accounted Egyptians and Edomites, but future Israelites; so that, according to this, some through their deliberate choice advance from bad to good, while others fall away from good to bad; and others are kept in goodness, or rise step by step from good to better, and others, again, abide in evil, or, because their wickedness abounds, grow worse and worse.

23. And since the Apostle in one place does not pretend that it rests with God whether a man becomes a vessel unto honour or unto dishonour, but puts the whole responsibility upon us, saying, “If then a man purge himself, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified and meet for the master’s use, prepared unto every good work”; and elsewhere he does not pretend that it depends upon us but lays the whole responsibility upon God, when he asserts that “the potter hath a right over the clay, to make one vessel unto honour and another unto dishonour”: and his statements are not contradictory; we must bring them both together, and from the two draw one sound conclusion. The power we have does not compel us to advance in goodness apart from the knowledge of God, nor does the knowledge of God compel us to advance unless we also contribute to the good result; for neither does our power apart from the knowledge of God, and the full use of what is in a worthy sense our “power,” make a man to be unto honour or unto dishonour; nor does God’s power alone fashion a man unto honour or dishonour unless He have our choice, inclining to the better or the worse, as a sort of raw material out of which to make the difference. This may suffice for our treatment of Free Will.








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