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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. V:
A Treatise on Grace and Free Will.: Chapter 41

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 41 [XX.]—The Wills of Men are So Much in the Power of God, that He Can Turn Them Whithersoever It Pleases Him.

I think I have now discussed the point fully enough in opposition to those who vehemently oppose the grace of God, by which, however, the human will is not taken away, but changed from bad to good, and assisted when it is good. I think, too, that I have so discussed the subject, that it is not so much I myself as the inspired Scripture which has spoken to you, in the clearest testimonies of truth; and if this divine record be looked into carefully, it shows us that not only men’s good wills, which God Himself converts from bad ones, and, when converted by Him, directs to good actions and to eternal life, but also those which follow the world are so entirely at the disposal of God, that He turns them whithersoever He wills, and whensoever He wills,—to bestow kindness on some, and to heap punishment on others, as He Himself judges right by a counsel most secret to Himself, indeed, but beyond all doubt most righteous. For we find that some sins are even the punishment of other sins, as are those “vessels of wrath” which the apostle describes as “fitted to destruction;” 3190 as is also that hardening of Pharaoh, the purpose of which is said to be to set forth in him the power of God; 3191 as, again, is the flight of the Israelites from the face of the enemy before the city of Ai, for fear arose in their heart so that they fled, and this was done that their sin might be punished in the way it was right that it should be; by reason of which the Lord said to Joshua the son of Nun, “The children of Israel shall not be able to stand before the face of their enemies.” 3192 What is the meaning of, “They shall not be able to stand”? Now, why did they not stand by free will, but, with a will perplexed by fear, took to flight, were it not that God has the lordship even over men’s wills, and when He is angry turns to fear whomsoever He pleases? Was it not of their own will that the enemies of the children of Israel fought against the people of God, as led by Joshua, the son of Nun? And yet the Scripture says, “It was of the Lord to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle, that they might be exterminated.” 3193 And was it not likewise of his own will that the wicked son of Gera cursed King David? And yet what says David, full of true, and deep, and pious wisdom? What did he say to him who wanted to smite the reviler? “What,” said he, “have I to do with you, ye sons of Zeruiah? Let him alone and let him curse, because the Lord hath said unto him, Curse David. Who, then, shall say, Wherefore hast thou done so?” 3194 And then the inspired Scripture, as if it would confirm the king’s profound utterance by repeating it once more, tells us: “And David said to Abishai, and to all his servants, Behold, my son, which came forth from my bowels, seeketh my life: how much more may this Benjamite do it! Let him alone, and let him curse; for the Lord hath bidden him. It may be that the Lord will look on my humiliation, and will requite me good for his cursing this day.”  3195 Now what prudent reader will fail to understand in what way the Lord bade this profane man to curse David? It was not by a command that He bade him, in which case his obedience would be praiseworthy; but He inclined the man’s will, which had become debased by his own perverseness, to commit this sin, by His own just and secret judgment. Therefore it is said, “The Lord said unto him.” Now if this person had obeyed a command of God, he would have deserved to be praised rather than punished, as we know he was afterwards punished for this sin. Nor is the reason an obscure one why the Lord told him after this manner to curse David. “It may be,” said the humbled king, “that the Lord will look on my humiliation, and will requite me good for his cursing this day.” See, then, what proof we have here that God uses the hearts of even wicked men for the praise and assistance of the good. Thus did He make use of Judas when betraying Christ; thus did He make use of the Jews when they crucified Christ. And how vast the blessings which from these instances He has bestowed upon the nations that should believe in Him! He also uses our worst enemy, the devil himself, but in the best way, to exercise and try the faith and piety of good men,—not p. 462 for Himself indeed, who knows all things before they come to pass, but for our sakes, for whom it was necessary that such a discipline should be gone through with us. Did not Absalom choose by his own will the counsel which was detrimental to him? And yet the reason of his doing so was that the Lord had heard his father’s prayer that it might be so. Wherefore the Scripture says that “the Lord appointed to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, to the intent that the Lord might bring all evils upon Absalom.” 3196 It called Ahithophel’s counsel “good,” because it was for the moment of advantage to his purpose. It was in favour of the son against his father, against whom he had rebelled; and it might have crushed him, had not the Lord defeated the counsel which Ahithophel had given, by acting on the heart of Absalom so that he rejected this counsel, and chose another which was not expedient for him.



Rom. ix. 22.


See Exod. 7:3, Exod. 10:1.


See Josh. 7:4, 12.


Josh. xi. 20.


2 Sam. 16:9, 10.


2 Sam. 16:11, 12.


2 Sam. xvii. 14.

Next: Chapter 42