Irenaeus on Free Will


Irenaeus

Irenaeus

Charles Spurgeon has written in his treatise “A Defense of Calvinism” that:

The old truth that Calvin preached, that Augustine preached, that Paul preached, is the truth that I must preach to-day, or else be false to my conscience and my God. … Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else.

Augustine, the #1 theologian on Parchment and Pen, and his writings had tremendous influence on the Reformers including Martin Luther and John Calvin. The ideas expressed in his writings form the foundation for the tenets of Calvinism. The question often debated is whether the views of Augustine were held by the early theologians of the church prior to Augustine.

In “Calvinism in History“, Reformed theologian Loraine Boettner acknowledges that Augustine is responsible for formulating these views.

[The earlier church fathers] of course taught that salvation was through Christ; yet they assumed that man had full power to accept or reject the gospel. Some of their writings contain passages in which the sovereignty of God is recognized; yet along side of those are others which teach the absolute freedom of the human will. … They taught a kind of synergism in which there was a co-operation between grace and free will.  [Predestination the] cardinal truth of Christianity was first clearly seen by Augustine, the great Spirit-filled theologian of the West. … He thus became the first true interpreter of Paul and was successful in securing the acceptance of his doctrine by the Church.

From time to time I will post excerpts from the early church writings that reflect on these theological topics. This first comes from Irenaeus writing around 180 AD, describing his views on free will, which correlate with a libertarian definition.

“But glory and honour,” he says, “to every one that doeth good.” (Rom 2:7) God therefore has given that which is good, as the apostle tells us in [Romans], and they who work it shall receive glory and honour, because they have done that which is good when they had it in their power not to do it; but those who do it not shall receive the just judgment of God, because they did not work good when they had it in their power so to do.

How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

But if some had been made by nature bad, and others good, these latter would not be deserving of praise for being good, for such were they created; nor would the former be reprehensible, for thus they were made [originally]. …

And not merely in works, but also in faith, has God preserved the will of man free and under his own control, saying, “According to thy faith be it unto thee;” (Matt 9:29) thus showing that there is a faith specially belonging to man, since he has an opinion specially his own. And again, “All things are possible to him that believeth;”(Mark 9:23) and, “Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee.” (Matt 8:13) Now all such expressions demonstrate that man is in his own power with respect to faith. And for this reason, “he that believeth in Him has eternal life while he who believeth not the Son hath not eternal life, but the wrath of God shall remain upon him.” (John 3:36)

[Scripture] demonstrates the independent will of man, and at the same time the counsel which God conveys to him, by which He exhorts us to submit ourselves to Him, and seeks to turn us away from [the sin of] unbelief against Him, without, however, in any way coercing us.

If then the advent of the Son comes indeed alike to all, but is for the purpose of judging, and separating the believing from the unbelieving, since, as those who believe do His will agreeably to their own choice, and as, [also] agreeably to their own choice, the disobedient do not consent to His doctrine; it is manifest that His Father has made all in a like condition, each person having a choice of his own, and a free understanding; and that He has regard to all things, and exercises a providence over all, “making His sun to rise upon the evil and on the good, and sending rain upon the just and unjust.” (Matt 5:45)

Against Heresies Book IV.37 and V.28

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