Human Will….Sovereign or Servant?

In Chapter 7 of The Sovereignty of God, A.W. Pink has the following discussion on the nature of the human will.

What is the Will? We answer, the will is the faculty of choice, the immediate cause of all action. Choice necessarily implies the refusal of one thing and the acceptance of another. The positive and the negative must both be present to the mind before there can be any choice. In every act of the will there is a preference-the desiring one thing rather than another. Where there is no preference, but complete indifference, there is no volition. To will is to choose, and to choose is to decide between two or more alternatives. But there is something which influences the choice; something which determines the decision. Hence the will cannot be Sovereign because it is the servant of that something. The will cannot be both Sovereign and servant. It cannot be both cause and effect. The will is not causative, because, as we have said, something causes it to choose, therefore that something must be the causative agent. Choice itself is affected by certain considerations, is determined by various influences brought to bear upon the individual himself, hence, volition is the effect of these considerations and influences, and if the effect, it must be their servant; and if the will is their servant then it is not Sovereign, and if the will is not Sovereign, we certainly cannot predicate absolute “freedom” of it. Acts of the will cannot come to pass of themselves-to say they can, is to postulate an uncaused effect. Ex nihilo nihil fit-nothing cannot produce something..

He makes an interesting point in this paragraph. He proves that the human will is NOT sovereign. I have struggled with this concept of human free will for a long time. I was always taught that we must choose to accept the gift of salvation when God offers it to us. I also thought that we could choose to reject His offer of salvation. If the will is not sovereign then that calls into question our ability to accept or reject the offer of salvation.

If the will is servant…then servant to what? Pink addresses this a couple paragraphs later. He says

That which determines the will is that which causes it to choose. If the will is determined then there must be a determiner. What is it that determines the will? We reply, The strongest motive power which is brought to bear upon it. What this motive power is varies in different cases. With one it may be the logic of reason, with another the voice of conscience, with another the impulse of the emotions, with another the whisper of the Tempter, with another the power of the Holy Spirit; whichever of these presents the strongest motive power and exerts the greatest influence upon the individual himself is that which impels the will to act. In other words, the action of the will is determined by that condition of mind (which in turn is influenced by the world, the flesh, and the Devil, as well as by God) which has the greatest degree of tendency to excite volition.

So we see here that the will chooses that which has the greatest influence on it. Another way of saying this is that we will choose the thing that we want more and is in agreement with our nature. This is why that an unregenerate person cannot choose God. In their fallen sinful nature the sin has the most influence over their will (For a discussion of how our sinful nature permeates us read this post on Total Depravity). We could actually go a step further and say the the sin nature has control over the will because the will can never choose something against its nature. Pink sums it up this way “if the will is controlled, it is neither sovereign nor free”.

What does all this mean to us? It means that until God chooses to change our nature that we will never be able to choose God. Calvinists call this regeneration. Arminians call it Prevenient Grace. Either way God has to initiate the process of Salvation. We are not free to choose to accept or reject salvation.


4 Responses to Human Will….Sovereign or Servant?

  1. Billy Birch says:

    I do not want to comment on your post today about the will, but on the ad for the ESV in the upper right hand of your blog. I never noticed before, but It reads: Truth. Unchanged. That is definitely interesting in light of their “change” of Malachi 2.16: “‘For I hate divorce,’ says the Lord, the God of Israel” (NASB).

    One Hebrew professor at Southeastern says that there is no warrant whatsoever to change the “I hate divorce” to anything else because that is exactly how it appears in the Heb. text.

    Come to find out, two of the men on the ESV translation team have been divorced, and it was stated that the reason they went with their own flavor/slant on that passage is because people might be offended by the harder reading as found in the NASB, NKJV, NIV, TNIV, NRSV. Even the Baptist Holman Christian Standard changed the wording! Wow!

    Just a thought.

    BTW, Arminius would have agreed that the will is in no way “sovereign.” Thus, any neo-Arminians who want to hold on to their version of “free-will” should read Arminius, or even Wesley for that matter.



  2. Tom says:


    I just recently added the ESV button. I had not heard of the change you mention in Malachi 2:16. I had switched from the NASB to the ESV about a year and a half ago, give or take a little while. This brings the obvious question – if they changed this verse then how many others, if any, did they change? I would be interested to hear why they changed it.

    Thanks for the heads up on this issue….I will have to do some research. This may be the first negative thing I have heard about the ESV, at least I don’t recall any others at the moment.


  3. Billy Birch says:

    For real, man. I loved the ESV about a couple of years ago. Romans 3.25 was done really well. I still reference it. I trust the NASB more than any English translation and I like the NKJV. These two have really stood the test of time, you know? As much as I like the ESV and HCSB, they haven’t earned my undying trust yet, lol.

    See ya.



  4. Tom says:

    For those who may be interested in this my former pastor (he posts here as Brett) sent me a link discussing this issue. I have read through about half of it so far and to be honest it is over my head. I am going to finish reading it and see if I can find any other resources discussing it as well.

    Here is the link:


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