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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]

Liberty (ἐλευθερία) occupies a prominent place in the thought of NT writers and appears in a variety of significations.-

1. In the political sense. -As denoting the status of a free citizen and in direct contrast with the state of slavery, the word figures in one of the great dichotomies used by the apostolic writers in classifying men from the standpoint of their age ( Colossians 3:1 -‘bondman, freeman’). We have no means of knowing even approximately in what proportions the churches of the apostolic and sub-apostolic times were made up of freemen and of slaves. Everything certainly goes to show that many of the latter class became Christians; in all probability, too, they usually formed the majority. It is precarious, however, to find positive evidence of this, as A. Deissmann does with regard to the Colossian Church, in the mere fact that ( Colossians 3:18-25;  Colossians 4:1) counsels addressed to slaves are given in ampler terms, those to masters quite briefly ( St. Paul , Eng. translation, 1912, p. 216). Similar reasoning might argue from  1 Peter 3:1-8;  1 Peter 3:7 that wives were in a majority and husbands in a minority!

The fact that St. Paul, a native of Tarsus, was a Roman citizen is treated as a matter of importance in Acts. It was the Roman Emperors who gave the people of the provinces power to enjoy the rights of citizenship. There is a dramatic turning of tables in  Acts 22:28 when St. Paul is able to say quite simply (yet with a touch of pride), ‘But I am a Roman born,’ and Claudius, the captain, turns out to be but a parvenu who had had to spend a lot of money, somehow or other, to acquire the citizenship. The same status is claimed for Silas as well as St. Paul in  Acts 16:37.

Not a few of those who are mentioned by name in St. Paul’s Epistles ( e.g. Philemon, Gaius, Erastus, Aquila, Phaebe, etc.) must have been of the citizen class. The number of such increased as time went on. In the Ignatian Epistles ( e.g. Smyrn . xii. and Polyc. viii.) we find similar references to devoted Christians (Tavias, Alce, Daphnus, ‘the wife of Epitropus’ [or ‘of the governor’], Attalus, etc.) of the same rank. But Christianity had gained access to the palaces of the aristocracy before the 1st cent. was out, and had won adherents there who suffered for their faith-witness the well-known cases of T. Flavius Clemens, the consul, and his wife, Domitilla. And for the same period we have the evidence of an outsider in Pliny’s famous Epistle to Trajan (x. 97), wherein he tells us that he found in his province large numbers of Christians ‘of all classes’ ( omnis ordinis ). What was true of Bithynia was most probably true of other parts of the Empire.

Citizenship and wealth, of course, did not necessarily go together. In the class of freemen were included people of all ranks, from artisans and labourers up to the wealthiest aristocrats. Unfortunately many citizens were but idle loafers, depending on the Imperial largesse . The existence of the huge, overgrown system of slavery had a sinister effect on the great mass of citizens, inasmuch as ‘paid labour was thought unworthy of any freeborn man’ (C. Bigg, The Church’s Task under the Roman Empire , Oxford, 1905, p. 114). The poor, hired labourers, however, of  James 5:4 were not technically δοῦλοι. The same Epistle shows us how soon the Apostolic Church experienced the evils too possibly attendant upon the appearance of the rich man within the circle of the Christian society (chs. 2 and 5).

Though civic freedom is quite evidently valued, we find little or nothing in the apostolic writings bearing on political questions. Lofty moral teaching and profound theology abound, but there is no feeling manifest that political freedom was a thing worth seeking for its own sake. It may indeed be said that in the 1st cent. ‘the prevailing notions of freedom were imperfect, and the endeavours to realise them were wide of the mark’ (Lord Acton, The History of Freedom , London, 1907, p. 16). See, further, articleSlave, Slavery.

2. In the sense of freedom of conscience. -‘Liberty’ is used in the NT to denote a man’s freedom to decide what is right or wrong for himself, especially in relation to matters enjoined upon him by some form of external authority. The development of such a notion naturally followed upon the development of the notion of conscience itself, which in turn was bound up with the growing sense of human individuality and personal responsibility. In pre-Christian lines of philosophical and religious teaching (as e.g. in Stoicism) we mark in this respect a praeparatio evangelica . As the ancient conception of man as merely a component unit in tribe or nation faded and gave way to the sense of his value for himself as well as for the community, and of his responsibility for himself, such consequences were bound to follow. So far from morality consisting simply in compliance with commands embodying the will of the community of which the man is a part (which commands may also be conceived as Divinely originated), when man realizes his individual responsibility to God, conscience emerges, and, criticizing those very commands, may disapprove as well as approve, whilst it may also find a whole area of moral interests which the injunctions of external authority do not touch and in which it must decide for itself.

To the rise of Christianity we very specially owe an advanced conception of conscience and its corollary, the claim to freedom to act in accord with the behests of conscience. ‘Am I not free?’ cries St. Paul ( 1 Corinthians 9:1); whilst ‘Peter and the apostles’ ( Acts 5:29) are heard declaring ‘We must obey God rather than men.’ These sayings might serve as watchwords of the new era as viewed from this standpoint (Judaism itself, it should be noted in passing, exhibited in course of time a similar development in its ethical teaching). And the clash between the new order and the old necessarily brought with it abundant scope for the outcrop of cases of conscience such as St. Paul handles in 1 Corinthians 8 ff. and Romans 14 f.

Freedom of this kind can be properly claimed and used only by the conscientious man-the man who is above all else concerned for harmony between the laws and customs he is called to observe and the inward regulative principle, and who departs from such laws only when an enlightened conscience imperatively demands it. For another important pre-requisite is that the exercise of this freedom shall be based on intelligent judgment. ‘Let each man be fully assured in his own mind’ ( Romans 14:5) is a Pauline dictum of the first importance. Cf. the deeply significant logion ascribed to our Lord in Cod. D ( Luke 6:5) wherein He says to a man found working on the Sabbath, ‘If thou knowest what thou art doing, blessed art thou; but if thou knowest not, thou art accurst and a transgressor of the law.’ A man cannot justifiably set at nought a positive commandment or institution unless he has sight of some higher principle which determines his course of action. The freedom an enlightened man asks is freedom to do what he sees he ought to do, and to do what he may do without injury to others.

For St. Paul very emphatically insists on the necessity of qualifying the exercise of one’s own liberty by regard for the claims of others. It must not involve harm to others or an infringement of their liberty. Self-limitation for the sake of others is, indeed, an example of the truest exercise of freedom.

3. As a description of the Christian life and experience. -Social conditions being what they were in the 1st cent., it was most natural that the life resulting from faith in Christ, as that is presented in the NT, should be described in the apostolic writings by a cycle of metaphors centring in the word ‘redemption’ (Deissmann, op. cit. , p. 149). This is specially characteristic of St. Paul.

The Christian life is represented as ( a ) freedom from the bondage of law .-St. Paul’s treatment of this topic (found mainly in the Epistles to Romans and Galatians) is not easy to follow and is doubtless coloured by his own vivid personal experience. We do not find quite the same line taken in other early apostolic writings that have been preserved to us. By general consent, it is true, it came to be held that Jewish and Gentile Christians alike were free from obligation to observe the Jewish Law in its peculiar institutions and ceremonial rules. The old sacrificial system was abolished ‘that the new law of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is without the yoke of necessity, might have a human oblation’ ( i.e. the dedication of the man himself) ( Epistle of Barnabas , ii.; so also Epistle to the Hebrews, and Epistle to Diognetus , iv. [regarding Sabbath, circumcision, ‘kosher’ foods, and the like]). But St. Paul has far more than this in view. He is thinking of all law as the expression of God’s will for man’s life and the severe revealer of man’s sin as he departs from it: law that has only condemnation for the sinner (see the autobiographical Romans 7).

That the Apostle countenances an antinomian freedom he himself indignantly denies. Nor did he lack the true Jew’s veneration for the Torah. With him law assumes the form of ‘an imperious principle opposed to grace and liberty only when it is viewed as the condition of justification , the means of attaining to righteousness before God through the merit of good works.’ As the expression of God’s will and the guide of human obedience it is ‘holy, just, and good’ ( Romans 7:12; see E. H. Gifford, Romans [in Speaker’s Commentary, 1881, p. 48]). Torah comes to its own in the new life which springs from Christian faith and the unio mystica between the Christian and his Lord. And if other early Christian writers present this life as lived under law (see Epistle of James, especially the happy expression, ‘law of liberty,’ ch  Romans 1:25; also  1 John 3:22 ff.), St. Paul likewise lays stress on ‘the law of Christ’ ( Galatians 6:2) and gives us the far-reaching aphorism: ‘Love is the fulfilment of law’ ( Romans 13:10).

( b ) Freedom from the bondage of sin .-Sin is here personified as a tyrannical master (see especially the line of treatment in Romans 6; cf.  John 8:34). An interesting parallel is furnished in the Discourses of Epictetus (iv. i.), where it is laid down that ‘no wicked man is free.’

( c ) Freedom from the bondage of idolatry .-See  Galatians 4:8 f.-a point of material importance to the Gentile world in apostolic days.

( d ) Freedom from the bondage of corruption ( Romans 8:21).-This rather belongs to the hope for the world at large which contemplates the social state wherein the new life is perfectly realized. ‘The glory of the children of God’ is a liberty which all creation sighs to share.

It remains briefly to point out that not only does the term ‘redemption’ (applied to the work of Christ in opening to men this new experience of life) derive from the social state in the midst of which Christianity was burn, but ‘adoption’ as used by St. Paul ( Romans 8:15;  Romans 8:23,  Galatians 4:5) similarly gains special significance as denoting entrance upon the life of liberty. Adoption, in a general way, was no uncommon phenomenon in the old world (see υἱοθεσία in Deissmann, Bible Studies , Eng. translation, 1901, p. 239), but it was also one recognized way of giving freedom to a slave.

There is no inconsistency but only striking paradox when this experience which is described as freedom is also described as a servitude to God (cf.  1 Peter 2:16, θεοῦ δοῦλοι, and  Romans 6:22, δουλωθέντες τῷ θεῷ). Here, too, it is of interest to recall that it was a Stoic doctrine of liberty that true freedom consists in obeying God, or, as Philo of Alexandria (see Tract, Quod sit liber quisquis virtuti studet ) puts it, the following of God. Again, as the Christian is commonly described in the NT as a δοῦλος Χριστοῦ, the singular use of ἀπελεύθερος (= libertus , freedman) in  1 Corinthians 7:22 noticeably introduces the notion of enfranchisement to describe the gaining of freedom in Christ. There may be here the underlying thought that the ‘ freedmen ’ of Christ stand related to Him somewhat as the liberti stood to their patron, to whom they were bound to render, in the language of Roman Law, obsequium et officium .

4. In the philosophical sense. -See articleFreedom of the Will.

Literature.-See works referred to in articleSlavery, and in addition to works quoted in foregoing article, T. G. Tucker, Life in the Roman World of Nero and St. Paul , London, 1910; H. Wallon, Histoire de l’esclavage dans l’antiquite 2, Paris, 1879.

J. S. Clemens.

Vine's Expository Dictionary of NT Words [2]

A — 1: Ἄνεσις (Strong'S #425 — Noun Feminine — anesis — an'-es-is )

"a loosening, relaxation," is translated "liberty" in  Acts 24:23 , AV. See Indulgence.

A — 2: Ἄφεσις (Strong'S #859 — Noun Feminine — aphesis — af'-es-is )

"dismissal, release, forgiveness," is rendered "liberty" in the AV of  Luke 4:18 , RV, "release." See Forgiveness.

A — 3: Ἐλευθερία (Strong'S #1657 — Noun Feminine — eleutheria — el-yoo-ther-ee'-ah )

see Freedom.

A — 4: Ἐξουσία (Strong'S #1849 — Noun Feminine — exousia — ex-oo-see'-ah )

"authority, right," is rendered "liberty" in  1—Corinthians 8:9 (marg., "power"), "this liberty of yours," or "this right which you assert." See Authority.

B — 1: Ἐλεύθερος (Strong'S #1658 — Adjective — eleutheros — el-yoo'-ther-os )

is rendered "at liberty" in  1—Corinthians 7:39 , AV (RV "free"). See Free.

C — 1: Ἀπολύω (Strong'S #630 — Verb — apoluo — ap-ol-oo'-o )

for the meanings of which see Let , No. 3, is translated "to set at liberty" in  Acts 26:32;  Hebrews 13:23 . See Dismiss.

C — 2: Ἀποστέλλω (Strong'S #649 — Verb — apostello — ap-os-tel'-lo )

"to send away," is translated "to set at liberty" in  Luke 4:18 . See Send.

 Acts 27:3

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [3]

LIBERTY. Moralists are accustomed to distinguish between formal freedom, or man’s natural power of choice, and real freedom, or power to act habitually in accordance with the true and good. Scripture has little to say on the mere power of choice, while everywhere recognizing this power as the condition of moral life, and sees real liberty only in the possession and exercise of wisdom, godliness, and virtue. Where there is ignorance and error, especially when this arises from moral causes (  Romans 1:21 ,   Ephesians 4:18 ,   1 John 2:11 etc.) subjection to sinful lusts (  Romans 7:14-23 ,   Ephesians 2:8 ,   1 Peter 1:14;   1 Peter 4:2-3; cf.   1 Peter 2:16 etc.), fear and distrust of God (  Romans 8:15 ,   Hebrews 12:18-21 etc.), bondage to the letter of the law (  Galatians 4:24-25 ) there cannot be liberty. Sin, in its nature, is a state of servitude (  John 8:34 ). Spiritual liberty is the introduction into the condition which is the opposite of this into the knowledge and friendship of God, the consciousness of cleansing from guilt, deliverance from sin’s tyranny, the possession of a new life in the Spirit, etc. Even under the Law, saints could boast of a measure of liberty; God’s commandment was found by them to be exceeding broad (  Psalms 119:46;   Psalms 119:96 , cf.   Psalms 51:11-12 ). But the gospel gives liberty in a degree, and with a completeness, unknown under the Law and unthought of in any other religion. It does this because it is the religion of reconciliation, of the Spirit, of sonship, of love. Jesus already teaches that His yoke is easy and His burden light; this because He inculcates meekness and lowliness of heart a spirit like His own (  Matthew 11:29-30 ). His religion is to St. James ‘the perfect law, the law of liberty’ (  James 1:25 ). The instrument in freeing from bondage is ‘the truth’ (  John 8:32 ); the agent is the Spirit of God. ‘Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there,’ of necessity, ‘is liberty’ (  2 Corinthians 3:17 ). As the result of the reception of the truth of the gospel, the believer knows himself justified and saved (  Romans 6:7 ), knows God as Father, and is assured of His love (  1 John 4:14-16 ); receives the spirit of adoption, in which is liberty (  Romans 8:15-16 ); experiences deliverance from the dominion of sin (  Romans 6:17-18;   Romans 7:25;   Romans 8:2 ); is set free from the yoke of outward observances (  Galatians 4:9; cf.   Galatians 5:1 ‘with freedom did Christ set us free; stand fast, therefore,’ etc.); has victory over the world (  Galatians 4:14 ,   1 John 5:4 ); lives in the power of the Spirit (  Galatians 5:16-18;   Galatians 5:22-25 ); has release from fear of death (  Hebrews 2:15 ), etc. On the freedom of man’s will, see Predestination, p. 749 a .

James Orr.

King James Dictionary [4]

LIB'ERTY, n. L. libertas, from liber, free.

1. Freedom from restraint, in a general sense, and applicable to the body, or to the will or mind. The body is at liberty, when not confined the will or mind is at liberty, when not checked or controlled. A man enjoys liberty, when no physical force operates to restrain his actions or volitions. 2. Natural liberty, consists in the power of acting as one thinks fit, without any restraint or control, except from the laws of nature. It is a state of exemption from the control of others, and from positive laws and the institutions of social life. This liberty is abridged by the establishment of government. 3. Civil liberty, is the liberty of men in a state of society, or natural liberty, so far only abridged and restrained, as is necessary and expedient for the safety and interest of the society, state or nation. A restraint of natural liberty, not necessary or expedient for the public, is tyranny or oppression. liberty is an exemption from the arbitrary will of others, which exemption is secured by established laws, which restrain every man from injuring or controlling another. Hence the restraints of law are essential to liberty.

The liberty of one depends not so much on the removal of all restraint from him, as on the due restraint upon the liberty of others.

In this sentence, the latter word liberty denotes natural liberty.

4. Political liberty, is sometimes used as synonymous with liberty. But it more properly designates the liberty of a nation, the freedom of a nation or state from all unjust abridgment of its rights and independence by another nation. Hence we often speak of the political liberties of Europe, or the nations of Europe. 5. Religious liberty, is the free right of adopting and enjoying opinions on religious subjects, and of worshiping the Supreme Being according to the dictates of conscience, without external control. 6. Liberty, in metaphysics, as opposed to necessity, is the power of an agent to do or forbear any particular action, according to the determination or thought of the mind, by which either is preferred to the other.

Freedom of the will exemption from compulsion or restraint in willing or volition.

7. Privilege exemption immunity enjoyed by prescription or by grant with a plural. Thus we speak of the liberties of the commercial cities of Europe. 8. Leave permission granted. The witness obtained liberty to leave the court. 9. A space in which one is permitted to pass without restraint, and beyond which he may not lawfully pass with a plural as the liberties of a prison. 10. Freedom of action or speech beyond the ordinary bounds of civility or decorum. Females should repel all improper liberties.

To take the liberty to do or say any thing, to use freedom not specially granted.

To set at liberty, to deliver from confinement to release from restraint.

To be at liberty, to be free from restraint.

Liberty of the press, is freedom from any restriction on the power to publish books the free power of publishing what one pleases, subject only to punishment for abusing the privilege, or publishing what is mischievous to the public or injurious to individuals.

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary [5]

Denotes a state of freedom, in contradistinction to slavery or restraint.

1. Natural liberty, or liberty of choice, is that in which our volitions are not determined by any foreign cause or consideration whatever offered to it, but by its own pleasure.

2. External liberty, or liberty of action, is opposed to a constraint laid on the executive powers; and consists in a power of rendering our volitions effectual.

3. Philosophical liberty consists in a prevailing disposition to act according to the dictates of reason, 1: e. in such a manner as shall, all things considered, most effectually promote our happiness.

4. Moral liberty is said to be that in which there is no interposition of the will of a superior being to prohibit or determine our actions in any particular under consideration.

See Necessity, Will

5. Liberty of conscience is freedom from restraint in our choice of, and judgment about matters of religion.

6. Spiritual liberty consists in freedom from the curse of the moral law; from the servitude of the ritual; from the love, power, and guilt of sin; from the dominion of Satan; from the corruptions of the world; from the fear of death, and the wrath to come;  Romans 6:14 .  Romans 8:1 .  Galatians 3:13 .  John 8:36 .  Romans 8:21 .  Galatians 5:1-26   1 Thessalonians 1:10 .

See articles Materialists, Predestination and Doddridge's Lec. p. 50, vol. 1: oct. Watts's Phil. Ess. sec. 5: p. 283; Jon. Edwards on the Will; Locke on Und. Grove's Mor. Phil. sec. 18, 19. J. Palmer on Liberty of Man; Martin's Queries and Rem. on Human Liberty; Charnock's Works, p. 175, &c. vol. 2:; Saurin's Sermons, vol. 3: ser. 4.

Webster's Dictionary [6]

(1): ( n.) A curve or arch in a bit to afford room for the tongue of the horse.

(2): ( n.) The state of a free person; exemption from subjection to the will of another claiming ownership of the person or services; freedom; - opposed to slavery, serfdom, bondage, or subjection.

(3): ( n.) Freedom from imprisonment, bonds, or other restraint upon locomotion.

(4): ( n.) A privilege conferred by a superior power; permission granted; leave; as, liberty given to a child to play, or to a witness to leave a court, and the like.

(5): ( n.) Privilege; exemption; franchise; immunity enjoyed by prescription or by grant; as, the liberties of the commercial cities of Europe.

(6): ( n.) The place within which certain immunities are enjoyed, or jurisdiction is exercised.

(7): ( n.) A certain amount of freedom; permission to go freely within certain limits; also, the place or limits within which such freedom is exercised; as, the liberties of a prison.

(8): ( n.) A privilege or license in violation of the laws of etiquette or propriety; as, to permit, or take, a liberty.

(9): ( n.) The power of choice; freedom from necessity; freedom from compulsion or constraint in willing.

(10): ( n.) Leave of absence; permission to go on shore.

Morrish Bible Dictionary [7]

Besides the common application of this term, it is used in scripture symbolically, as

1. The liberty obtained by Christ for those that were captives of Satan.   Isaiah 61:1;  Luke 4:18;  John 8:36 .

2. The conscience set free from guilt, as when the Lord said to several, "Thy sins be forgiven thee: go in peace."

3. Freedom from the law, etc. "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free."   Romans 7:24,25;  Galatians 5:1 . Jesus said, "I am the door: by me if any man enter in he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture."  John 10:9 .

4. The Christian's deliverance from the power of sin by having died withChrist, as in   Romans 6:8-22; and, having reckoned himself dead to sin, experimentally enjoying liberty, as in  Romans 8:2-4 , after experiencing that the flesh is too strong for him The deliverance is realised by the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, and the love of God is known and enjoyed. Christ is then the object before the soul, and not self.

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology [8]

See Freedom

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [9]

"The idea of liberty," says Locke, "is the idea of a power in any agent to do or forbear any particular action, according to the determination or thought of the mind, whereby either of them is preferred to the other. When either of them is not in the power of the agent, to be produced by him according to his volition, then he is not at liberty, but under necessity." From this, and the extract which follows, it will be seen that Locke's ideas of liberty and of power are very nearly the same. "Every one," he observes, "finds in himself a power to begin or forbear, continue or put an end to, several actions in himself. From the consideration of the extent of this power of the mind over the actions of the man, which every one finds in himself, arise the ideas of liberty and necessity." These definitions, however, merely extend to the ability of the individual to execute his own purposes without obstruction; whereas Locke, in order to do justice to his own decided opinion on the subject, ought to have included also in his idea of liberty a power over the determinations of the will. "By the liberty of a moral agent," says Dr. Reid, "I understand a power over the determinations of his own will. If, in any action, he had power to will what he did, or not to will it, in that action he is free.

But if, in every voluntary action, the determination of his will be the necessary consequence of something involuntary in the state of his mind, or of something in his external circumstances, he is not free; he has not what I call the liberty of a moral agent, but is subject to necessity." On the other hand, some affirm that necessity is perfectly consistent with human liberty; that, is, that the most strict and inviolable connection of cause and effect does not prevent the full, free, and unrestrained development of certain powers in the agent, or take away the distinction between the nature of virtue and vice, praise and blame, reward and punishment, but is the foundation of all moral reasoning. "I conceive," says Hobbes, " that nothing taketh beginning from itself, but from the action of some other immediate agent without itself; and that therefore, when first a man hath an appetite or will to do something to which immediately before he had no appetite nor will, the cause of his will is not the will itself, but something else not in his own disposing; so that whereas it is out of controversy that of voluntary action the will is the necessary cause, and by this which is said the will is also caused by other things whereof it disposeth not. it followeth that voluntary actions have all of them necessary causes, and therefore are necessitated.

I hold that to be a sufficient cause to which nothing is wanting that is needful to the producing of the effect. The same is also a necessary cause. For if it be possible that a sufficient cause shall not bring forth the effect, then there wanteth somewhat which was needful to the producing of it, and so the cause was not sufficient; but if it be impossible that a sufficient cause should not produce the effect, then is a sufficient cause a necessary cause (for that is said to produce an effect necessarily that cannot but produce it). Hence it is manifest that whatsoever is produced a hath had a sufficient cause to produce it, or else it had not been, and therefore also voluntary actions are necessitated." "I conceive liberty," he observes, "to be rightly defined in this manner: Liberty is the absence of all impediments to action that are not contained in the nature and intrinsical quality of the agent: as, for example, the water is said to descend freely, or to have liberty to descend by the channel of the river, because there is no impediment that way, but not across, because the banks are impediments; and, though the water cannot ascend, yet men never say it wants the liberty to ascend, but the faculty or power, because the impediment is in the nature of the water, and intrinsical. So also we say, he that is tied wants the liberty to go, because the impediment is not in him, but in his bands; whereas we say not so of him that is sick or lame, because the impediment is in himself. I hold that the ordinary definition of a free agent namely, that a free agent is that which, when all things are present that are needful to produce the effect, can nevertheless not produce it implies a contradiction, and is nonsense; being as much as to say the cause may be sufficient, that is to say, necessary, and yet the effect shall not follow."

He afterwards defines a moral agent to be one that acts from deliberation, choice, or will, not from indifference; and, speaking of the supposed inconsistency between choice and necessity, he adds: "Commonly, when we see and know the strength that moves us, we acknowledge necessity; but when we do not, or mark not the force that moves us, we then think there is none, and thus conclude that it is not cause, but liberty, that produceth the action. Hence it is that we are apt to think that one doth not choose this or that who of necessity chooses it; but we might as well say fire doth not burn because it burns of necessity." The general question is thus stated by Hobbes in the beginning of his treatise: the point is not, he says, "whether a man can be a free agent; that is to say, whether he can write or forbear, speak or be silent, according to his will, but whether the will to write or the will to forbear come upon him according to his will, or according to anything else in his power. I acknowledge this liberty, that I can do if I will; but to say I can will if I will, I take to be an absurd speech. In fine, that freedom which men commonly find in books, that which the poets chant in the theaters and the shepherds on the mountains, that which the pastors teach in the pulpits and the doctors in the universities, and that which the common people in the markets, and all mankind in the whole world, do assent unto, is the same that I assent unto, namely, that a man hath freedom to do if he will; but whether he hath freedom to will is a question neither the bishop nor they ever thought on." Thus it will readily be perceived that Hobbes entirely denies the main point at issue, namely, the freedom of the will itself, and confines the subject as his definition purely to liberty of action. This latter is simply a physical question, and applies to all agents, whether human, animal, or even material; that liberty which concerns, and indeed constitutes, a being as a moral agent, is quite a different thing. - Hobbes as a materialist, and therefore a necessitarian, of course finds no room for this kind of moral or self-determining power.

It is unquestionable that the source of most of the confusion on the subject is in the ambiguity lurking under the term necessity, which includes both kinds of necessity, moral and physical. The double meaning of the word has been the chief reason why persons who were guided more by their own feelings and the customary associations of language than by formal definitions have altogether rejected the doctrine, while persons of a more logical turn, who could not deny the truth of the abstract principle, have yet, in their explanation of it and inference from it, fallen into the same error as their opponents. The partisans of necessity have given up their common sense, as they supposed, to their reason, while the advocates of liberty rejected a demonstrable truth from a dread of its consequences, and both have been the dupes of a word.

The obnoxiousness of the name unquestionably has been the cause of nearly all the difficulty and repugnance which many who really hold the doctrine find in admitting it. It was to remove this prejudice that Dr. Jonathan Edwards was induced to write his celebrated treatise on the Will. In a letter written expressly to vindicate himself from the charge of having, in his great work, confounded moral with physical necessity, he says: "On the contrary, I have largely declared that the connection between antecedent things and consequent ones, which take place with regard to the acts of men's wills, which is called moral necessity, is called by the name of necessity improperly, and that all such terms as must cannot, impossible, unable, irresistible, unavoidable, invisible, etc., when applied here, are not employed in their proper signification, and are either used nonsensically and with perfect insignificance, or in a sense quite diverse from their original and proper meaning and their use in common speech, and that such a necessity as attends the acts of men's wills is more properly called certainty than necessity."

The well-known definition of Edwards on this subject is in the following words; " The plain and obvious meaning of the words freedom and liberty, in common speech, is power, opportunity, or advantage that any one has to do as he pleases, or, in other words, his being free from hinderance, or impediment in the way of doing or conducting in any respect as he wills. I say not only doing, but conducting, because a voluntary forbearing to do, sitting still, keeping silence, etc., are instances of persons' conduct about which liberty is exercised, though they are not so properly called doing. And the contrary to liberty, whatever name we call that by, is a person's being hindered or unable to conduct as he will, or being necessitated to do otherwise." The radical defect in this definition as to the question in hand is that liberty, as thus defined, relates solely to action (or non-action, as the case may be), and not to the will at all. Thus, by a singular method of petitio principii, the very possibility of all freedom of will is excluded. The real point at issue is but casually named, and arbitrarily dismissed as a contradiction. That point is not whether a man may act as he wills (this, again, is mere physical liberty), but whether the will has a self-determining power; whether, in other words, a man may will in opposition to external influences, usually called motives. This question the universal experience of mankind has determined in the affirmative. On these two grounds, 1, the essential fallacy as to the point in dispute, and, 2, the unanimous testimony of consciousness as to the spontaneity of volition, the fundamental position of Edwards has been so successfully attacked, as, for instance (to name only Calvinistic writers), by Tapspan and Bledsoe, that it may now be regarded as failing to meet the present theological status of the question. (See Will).

True liberty evidently consists simply in freedom from external constraint. That Gods is free in this sense, at least in his acts, all must admit, inasmuch as there is no conceivable power that could coerce him. It is likewise obvious that he is equally free in his volitions, unless we suppose a system of arbitrary laws or absolute line of policy which shuts him up to a certain line of conduct. So far as these may be the resultant. or expression of his own nature, they might perhaps be admitted without essentially impairing our notions of his freedom. So, again, of man; if the motives, by which alone, if at all, it is claimed that his volitions are governed, are self- originated, or derive their governing weight from the influence which his own mind imparts to them, he may still be said to be free in at least the strict sense of the definition. If, however, these preponderating elements consist in his own desires, and if, further, these desires are beyond his own control (whether by reason of natural predisposition, inveterate habit, or the divine or satanic interposition), then it must still remain dubious if his liberty amounts to the measure of a, rational, moral, and accountable agent. In the humans sphere this is precisely the point of difficulty, but its determination as a matter of fact, if indeed possible, belongs properly under another head. (See Motive). In, the divine sphere, on the other hand, the difficulty arisesfrom the so-called system of fore-ordination, which is tenaciously held by Calvinistic divines, being either assumed as a metaphysical dogma, or inferred from certain scriptural statements, and as strenuously denied by others. (See Predestination).

The ground assumed on this vexed question by Sir William Hamilton and Mansell is that liberty and necessity are both incomprehensible, both being beyond. the limits of legitimate thought; that they are among those questions which admit of no certain answer, the very inability to answer them proving that dogmaticdecisions on either side are the decisions of ignorance, not of knowledge. "How the will can possibly be free," says Hamilton, "must remain to us, under the present limitation of our faculties, wholly incomprehensible. We are unable to conceive an absolute commencement; we cannot, therefore, conceive a free volition. A determination by motives cannot, to our understanding, escape from necessitation nay, were we even to admit as true what we cannot think as possible, still the doctrine of a motiveless volition would be only casualistic, and the free acts of an indifferent are morally and rationally as worthless as the fore-ordained passions of a determined will. How, therefore, I repeat, moral liberty is possible in man or God we are utterly unable speculatively to understand. But practically the fact that we are free is given to us in the consciousness of our moral accountability; and this fact of liberty cannot be reargued on the ground that it is incomprehensible, for the philosophy of the conditions proves, against the necessitarian, that things there are which may, nay, must be true, of which the understanding is wholly unable to construe to itself the possibility. But this philosophy is not only competent to defend the fact of our moral liberty, possible, though inconceivable, against the assault of the fatalist; it retorts against himself the very objection of inconceivability by which the fatalist had thought to triumph over the libertarian. It shows that the scheme of freedom is not more inconceivable than the scheme of necessity; for, whilst fatalism is a recoil from the more obtrusive inconceivability of an absolute commencement, on the fact of which commencement the doctrine of liberty proceeds, the fatalist is shown to overlook the equal but less obtrusive inconceivability of an infinite non-commencement, on the assertion of which non-commencement his own doctrine of necessity must ultimately rest. As equally unthinkable, the two counter, the two one-sided schemes, are thus theoretically balanced." Sir William, however as it seems to us, in this extract does not closely adhere to the conditions of the problem. According to his own admission, it is not the fact of a self-determining power in the will that is "inconceivable," but only the mode (the how) of its exercise. This, like many other well-known processes, is a mystery. Again, it is not claimed that the will acts without motive, but only that it is not controlled by external motive; that it has the power of itself choosing what motive shall be strongest with it, irrespective of the intrinsic force of that motive. It is this distinction that preserves-as no other can-the truly moral character of the agent.

"The endless controversy concerning predestination and free-will," says Mansell, "whether viewed in its speculative or in its moral aspect, is but another example of the hardihood of human ignorance. The question has its philosophical as well as its theological aspect: it has no difficulties peculiar to itself; it is but a special form of the fundamental mystery of the co- existence of the infinite and the finite." "The vexed question of liberty and necessity, whose counter arguments become a by-word for endless and unprofitable wrangling, is but one of a large class of problems, some of which meet us at every turn of our daily life and conduct, whenever we attempt to justify in theory that which we are compelled to carry out in practice. Such problems arise inevitably whenever we attempt to pass from the sensible to the intelligible world, from the sphere of action to that of thought, from that which appears to us to that which is in itself. In religion, in morals, in our daily business, in the care of our lives, in the exercise of our senses, the rules which guide our practice cannot be reduced to principles which satisfy our reason." Those theologians, on the other hand, who deny that the divine predestination extends to the individual acts of men in general, think that they thus more effectually obviate the whole difficulty. In the divine foreknowledge of all human actions they admit the certainty of their occurrence, but find no causative power, such as seems to enter essentially into the predeterminations of an Almighty will. As to the argument that such foreknowledge rests upon, and therefore implies fore-ordination, they contend that this is a reversal of the true order (comp.  Romans 8:29), and that God's prescience is a simple knowing beforehand by his peculiar power of intuition, not any conclusion or inference from what he may or may not determine. (See Prescence).

See Hobbes's treatise Of Liberty and Necessity; also his Option about Liberty and Necessity; also Questions concerning Liberty, Necessity, and Chance clearly stated and debated between Dr. Bramhall and Thomas Hobbes; Leibnitz's Essais de Theodicee, a collection of papers which passed between Mr. Leibnitz and Dr. Clarke; Collins's Philosophical Inquiry concerning Human Liberty; Clarke's Remarks upon a Book entitled "A Philosophical Inquiry concerning Human Liberty;" Edwards's Inquiry into the Freedom of the Will; Essay on the Genius and Writings of Edwards, prefixed to the London edition of his works, 1834, by H. Rogers; J. Taylor's introduction to his edition of Edwards On the Will; Hartley's Observations on Man; Belsham's Elements of the Philosophy of the Mlind; Cousin's Elements of Psychology (Prof. Henry's translation); Sir William Hamilton's Philosophy, and Lectures on Metahysics; Mansell's Limits of Religious Thought; Herbert Spencer's First Principles; Stewart's Philosophy of the Active and Moral Powers of Man; Tappan's Review of Ldwards's Inquiry into the Freedoms of the Will; Mill's System of Logic; Jouffroy's Introduction to Ethics; Blakey's History of the Philosophy of Mind; Hazard, On the Will; Bledsoe, On the Will; Whedon, On the Will. (See Necessitarians)

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [10]

lib´ẽr - ti ( דּרור , derōr , רחב , rāḥābh  ; ἐλευθερία , eleutherı́a ): The opposite of servitude or bondage, hence, applicable to captives or slaves set free from oppression (thus derōr ,   Leviticus 25:10;  Isaiah 61:1 , etc.). Morally, the power which enslaves is sin ( John 8:34 ), and liberty consists, not simply in external freedom, or in possession of the formal power of choice, but in deliverance from the darkening of the mind, the tyranny of sinful lusts and the enthrallment of the will, induced by a morally corrupt state. In a positive respect, it consists in the possession of holiness, with the will and ability to do what is right and good. Such liberty is possible only in a renewed condition of soul, and cannot exist apart from godliness. Even under the Old Testament godly men could boast of a measure of such liberty ( Psalm 119:45 , rāḥābh , "room," "breadth"), but it is the gospel of Christ which bestows it in its fullness, in giving a full and clear knowledge of God, discovering the way of forgiveness, supplying the highest motives to holiness and giving the Holy Spirit to destroy the power of sin and to quicken to righteousness. In implanting a new life in the soul, the gospel lifts the believer out of the sphere of external law, and gives him a sense of freedom in his new filial relation to God. Hence, the New Testament expressions about "the glorious liberty" of God's children ( Romans 8:21 the King James Version; compare   Galatians 2:4;  Galatians 5:13 , etc.), about liberty as resulting from the possession of the Spirit ( 2 Corinthians 3:17 ), about "the perfect law of liberty" ( James 1:25 ). The instrument through which this liberty is imparted is "the truth" ( John 8:32 ). Christians are earnestly warned not to presume upon, or abuse their liberty in Christ ( Galatians 5:13;  1 Peter 2:16 ).