Summary Against Modern Thought: Man Is Not Forced Toward Virtue

Summary Against Modern Thought: Man Is Not Forced Toward Virtue

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This is a simple chapter, no longer controversial. It is not difficult to get us moderns to believe we are not required to act rightly.


1 Now, it might seem to someone that by divine help some external compulsion to good action is exercised on man, because it has been said: “No man can come to Me, except the Father, Who hath sent Me, draw him” (John 6:44); and because of the statement in Romans (8:14): “Whosoever are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God”; and in 2 Corinthians (5:14): “the charity of Christ presses us.” Indeed, to be drawn, to be led, and to be pressed seem to imply coaction.

2 But that this is not true is clearly shown. For divine providence provides for all things according to their measure, as we have shown above. But it is proper to man, and to every rational nature, to act voluntarily and to control his own acts, as it is clear from what we have said before. But coaction is contrary to this. Therefore, God by His help does not force men to right action.

3 Again, that divine help is provided man so that he may act well is to be understood in this way: it performs our works in us, as the primary cause performs the operations of secondary causes, and as a principal agent performs the action of an instrument. Hence, it is said in Isaiah (26:1213): “You have wrought all our works for us, O Lord.” Now, the first cause causes the operation of the secondary cause according to the measure of the latter. So, God also causes our works in us in accord with our measure, which means that we act voluntarily and not as forced. Therefore, no one is forced to right action by the divine help.

4 Besides, man is ordered to his end by his will, for the object of the will is the good and the end. Now, divine help is chiefly afforded us so that we may obtain our end. So, this help does not exclude from us the act of our will, but, rather, in a special way, produces this act in us. Hence, the Apostle says, in Philippians (2:13): “it is God Who works in you, both to will and to accomplish, according to good will.” But coaction excludes the act of the will in us, since we do under force that whose contrary we will. Therefore, God does not force us by His help to act rightly.

5 Moreover, man reaches his ultimate end by acts of the virtues, for felicity is assigned as a reward for virtue. Now, forced acts are not acts of the virtues, since the main thing in virtue is choice, which cannot be present without voluntariness to which violence is opposed. Therefore, man is not divinely compelled to act rightly.

6 Furthermore, the means to the end should be in proportion to the end. But the ultimate end which is felicity is appropriate only to voluntary agents, who are masters of their acts. Hence, we call neither inanimate things nor brute animals, happy, just as they are neither fortunate nor unfortunate, except metaphorically. Therefore, the help that is divinely given men to attain felicity is not coercive.

7 Hence, it is said in Deuteronomy (30:15-18): “Consider that the Lord has set before you this day life and good, and on the other hand death and evil; that you may love the Lord your God, and walk in His ways… But if your heart turns away so that you will not hear… I foretell you this day that you shall perish.” And in Sirach (15-18): “Before man is life and death, good and evil; what he chooses shall be given him.”


  1. Doug Zeidler

    Thanks for this effort. The clearest summary for me is found with Pharaoh in Exodus. God’s hardening was necessary because the removal of free choice was being imposed. Man is not forced towards virtue any more than he is forced towards evil. Free choice was removed from Pharaoh because the neutrality which is the normative for mankind was suspended … man generally has freedoms.

    Thank you again for sharing the productions of your mind!

    “But the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he did not listen to them, as the LORD had spoken to Moses.”  Exo 9:12

  2. John B()


    The Pharaoh incident and other similar incidents with other kings and rulers are what “Reformed Theologians” use as “proof” of a “lack of Free Will”.

    I didn’t buy that and I can’t accept your “Free choice … removed … suspended”

    I believe God knew Pharaoh’s heart and understood that by revealing Himself to Pharaoh, Pharaoh’s heart would become hardened on that knowledge.

    Pharaoh was considered a god in a pantheon of gods. Not only would the Hebrew God revealing Himself to Pharaoh deny the Egyptian pantheon, it would also deny Pharaoh’s godhood as well. As invested in this as Pharaoh was, God knew the knowledge would harden Pharaoh’s heart.

    That whole “knowing God” or NOT WANTING to “know God” … that is the main “free will” that Reformed Theologians deny and you’re willing to throw under the bus in some cases

  3. Amateur Brain Surgeon

    Bishop Challoner notes: Not by being the efficient cause of his sin; but by withdrawing from him, for his just punishment, the dew of grace that might have softened his heart; and so suffering him to grow harder and harder.

  4. L Ron Hubbard alias John B()

    Yeah. The King Saul equivalency could be possible as well

  5. Joy

    God does not change in his nature or quality. Surely that is not arguable. The argument is about what that nature IS, or if it exists at all.

    Therefore it makes more sense to conclude that God, who knows the heart of a person maybe even better than they know their own: It is more likely that pharaoh’s response hardened, as was inevitable for a man of his character. So the wording or translation assumes that God did the act but it’s rather more that Pharaoh reacted to the knowledge or not of the presence of God, or a power that he didn’t understand that threatened his own.

    Like saying,
    “the effects of God” hardened his heart. Also that God knew it would.
    In the same way as it was not necessary for Jesus to die but that it was inevitable that it would happen. The same dynamic exactly.

    If you’ve encountered evil in the face of goodness you will understand that there is jealousy about power just as there is jealousy about material things. “you” as in anybody, second person singular.

    Also the same motive which prevents people from saying sorry when they are clearly in the wrong.

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