The will of the regenerate man
I read Prof. Cammenga’s articles in the April 15 and June 2020 Standard Bearer entitled “Of free will, and thus of human powers” with interest, but disagree with his teaching that regenerated man “has the freedom of his will restored” so that he, quoting the Second Helvetic Confession (SHC), “wills and is able to do the good of its own accord” (SB, June, p. 399).
Man does “willingly” will sin in his second stage of his “own accord,” but Prof. Cammenga and the SHC confuse the truth of this matter by calling such a willingness “free” (SB, April 15, p. 329). In all four stages1 man remains a rational, moral, and “willingly” willing creature, so such willingness to will the good in the third regenerated stage certainly cannot be that which may be said to be a freedom that is “restored,” nor is it the freedom that Prof. Cammenga teaches is restored.
Prof. Cammenga teaches one legitimate sense in which the freedom of man’s will is restored, namely, that his will is freed from being “enslaved to sin” (SB, June, p. 399). However, he then erroneously teaches that that freedom gives regenerate man a will that is then free to will and do the good “of its own accord” (SB, p. 399). Such teaching contradicts the Canons of Dordt (III/IV, Art. 14), which explicitly teaches that freedom from the bondage of sin does not result in regenerate man being free also to will and do the good of his will’s “own accord”:
Faith is therefore to be considered as a gift of God, not…even because God bestows the power or ability to believe, and then expects that man should by the exercise of his own free will, consent to the terms of salvation and actually believe in Christ; but because He who works in man both to will and to do, and indeed all things in all, produces both the will to believe and the act of believing also [emphasis added].
By stating that the faith of man in the third regenerated stage is not “by the exercise of his own free will,” the Canons explicitly teach that faith is not of man’s will’s “own accord,” but of God’s will and power. This truth about faith must also be clearly taught then of good works that are “only those which proceed from a true faith” (Heidelberg Catechism, LD 33) in both this and the life to come, so that good works too are not of regenerate man’s will’s “own accord,” but only by God’s power and according to His will. “Of its own accord” may not be applied to the regenerated man in Christ inasmuch as regenerate man only ever wills the good in accord with Christ his Head’s will, as guided by His Spirit as “the Lord and Giver of Life” (Nicene Creed). Man’s will after the Fall is only ever bound either to willingly will sin (always in the second stage, and when acting “of its own accord” in the third stage) or bound to willingly will and do only the good (third stage only in principle and fourth stage, when under the regenerating and life-giving influence of the Spirit).
To maintain that regenerate man can will and do the good of his will’s “own accord,” Prof. Cammenga must either deny the total depravity of the regenerated man’s old man, or deny the headship of Christ over his new man, which is akin to teaching that a body can willingly will and do anything apart from its head.
Mr. Charles C. Doezema
As brother Doezema rightly points out, he does not so much disagree with me but with the Second Helvetic Confession. This is extremely presumptuous. The SHC is not merely the personal confession of Heinrich Bullinger, any more than the Belgic Confession of Faith is the personal confession of Guido de Brès. It was one of the most widely acclaimed confessions of the Reformation era. Reformed churches throughout Europe, including our Dutch forebearers, as well as Presbyterians of Scotch-Irish descent, subscribed to the SHC. That widespread subscription was in large part due to the confession’s strong repudiation of the heresy of free will and its clear articulation of the positive teaching of Scripture concerning the renewal of the will in the regenerate.
To begin with, brother Doezema takes issue with the teaching that in regeneration the will of man is “restored” (cf. “Letter,” paragraphs 1 and 2). But he is not only taking exception to the SHC; he is also taking exception to the Canons of Dordt. More than once, the Canons speak of the renewal of the will in those who are regenerated. Canons III/IV, Article 11 teaches that in regeneration God “infuses new qualities into the will.” In the same head, Article 12 speaks explicitly of the renewal of the will: “Whereupon the will thus renewed is not only actuated and influenced by God, but in consequence of this influence becomes itself active.” Article 16 goes on to speak of regeneration “in which the true and spiritual restoration and freedom of our will consist.” In reality, brother Doezema is rejecting not only the teaching of the SHC, but the teaching of the Canons of Dordt. If the SHC “confuse[s] the truth of the matter,” as he alleges, so does also the Canons of Dordt—a most serious position.
That the work of regeneration includes the renewal of the will has always been the teaching of the Protestant Reformed Churches. This is not only the Reformed tradition, but this is Protestant Reformed tradition. In the same paragraph in which Homer C. Hoeksema insists that the grace of God “does not abrogate the responsibility of the Christian,” and that “God does not believe and repent for him,” he writes:
God never violates the work of his creation and the nature of man. In the execution of his good pleasure he never interferes between the heart, will, and mind of a man and the actions of that man. On the contrary, the act of faith and repentance proceeds from the will of the man. He believes and repents, but he does so only by virtue of the grace received. God renews him. God actuates and influences that renewed will, and in consequence of that infallible and effectual influence, the renewed will also acts. Man is rightly said to believe and repent. (The Voice of our Fathers, p. 323; emphasis added.)
Brother Doezema also rejects the SHC’s statement that the regenerated will both wills and does the good “of its own accord” (cf. “Letter,” paragraphs 3, 4, and 5). The complete sentence in the SHC is: “And the will itself is not only changed by the Spirit, but it is also equipped with faculties so that it wills and is able to do the good of its own accord.” In support of his rejection of speaking in any sense of the renewed will willing the good “of its own accord,” brother Doezema quotes Canons III/IV, Article 14. But his understanding of this article of the Canons is wrong. The article is repudiating the error of free will, a capacity of the natural man in himself and apart from regeneration, by which a man “consent[s] to the terms of salvation and actually believe[s] in Christ.” This is precisely the same error that the SHC is rejecting in chapter 9. To allege that the SHC is contradicting itself, giving back with the left hand what it has taken away with the right hand, is mistaken.
When the SHC refers to the will “of its own accord,” it is not talking about an innate capacity of the will of fallen man, but of the will renewed through regeneration, as the sentence in which the expression occurs makes plain. It is speaking of the will as it has been “changed by the Spirit.” The will thus “changed by the Spirit” actually and actively wills, which is the function of the will. Even then, the regenerated man’s will does not will the good apart from the grace of God, as the SHC indicates by its quotations of Jeremiah 31:33, John 8:36, Philippians 1:29 and 2:13. But the point is that as a fruit of the work of grace, the will of the regenerated believer does indeed will the good. The statement in this paragraph of the SHC parallels the statement in Canons III/IV, Article 12 that “man is himself rightly said to believe and repent by virtue of that grace received.” The Canons do not mean to teach that man in his own strength believes and repents. That would be a distortion of the teaching of the Canons, which insists that we believe, repent, and will the good as the result of God’s sovereign, efficacious grace. But the fruit of grace is that man himself does indeed repent and believe. Just so, the renewed will as renewed does “of its own accord” will that which is good and pleasing to God. That the renewed will does indeed actively will, choose, and do that which is good, the SHC will insist upon in the next paragraph of chapter 9, the exposition of which can be found elsewhere in this issue of the Standard Bearer (p. 90). God does not will for us and instead of us, but we actively and consciously will.
This is Scripture. Paul says in Romans 7:18, “For to will is present in me.” In verse 19 of the same chapter, he speaks of “the good that I would,” that is, “the good that I will,” as well as “the evil that I would not,” that is, “the evil that I do not will.” And in verse 22 he says, “I delight in the law of God after the inward man.” To be sure, it is gospel truth that it is God who works in us “both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” But the fruit of God’s work in us is that we will and do His good pleasure.
What brother Doezema means when he speaks of “the headship of Christ over his new man” (“Letter,” paragraph 5) is unclear. This is a puzzling and confusing expression. Christ is our Head, not simply the head of our new man. This is not a biblical or confessional expression. And it is dangerous. It comes perilously close to teaching that as our Head, Christ wills and chooses for us, rather than that we will and choose, and that we are called to will and choose. Brother Doezema further insists “that good works too are not of regenerate man’s will’s ‘own accord,’ but only by God’s power and according to His will” (“Letter,” paragraph 4). In his mind, it is one or the other. Good works “are not of regenerate man’s will,” but “only by God’s power and according to His will.” The biblical teaching, however, is that God works in us so that we both will and do His good pleasure. By denying that the regenerate will the good and do the good, brother Doezema is making the same kind of error as saying that Noah did not build the ark. It is the error of contending that either God built the ark or Noah built it, rather than Noah by the grace of God working in him. And both these denials are symptomatic of antinomianism, which denies the “can” and the “must” of good works because it fears that good works then somehow contribute to our salvation. Where the “can” is repudiated for the regenerated believer, the denial of the “must” is not far behind. Antinomianism in all its forms is a grievous error that the Reformed faith recognizes and repudiates. It is an error that the Protestant Reformed Churches must guard against and reject in all its forms.
Prof. Ronald Cammenga