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 hindrance 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.

If this which I have mentioned be the meaning of the word
Liberty, in the ordinary use of language; as I trust that none that
has ever learned to talk, and is unprejudiced, will deny: then it
will follow that in propriety of speech neither Liberty, nor its
contrary, can properly be ascribed to any being or thing, but that
which has such a faculty, power or property, as is called will. For
that which is possessed of no such thing as will, cannot have any
power or opportunity of doing according to its will, nor be
necessitated to act contrary to its will, nor be restrained from
acting agreeably to it. And therefore to talk of Liberty, or the
contrary, as belonging to the very will itself, is not to speak
good sense; if we judge of sense, and nonsense, by the original and
proper signification of words. For the will itself is not an agent
that has a will: the power of choosing itself, has not a power of
choosing. That which has the power of volition or choice is the man
or the soul, and not the power of volition itself. And he that has
the Liberty of doing according to his will, is the agent or doer
who is possessed of the will, and not the will which he is
possessed of. We say with propriety, that a bird let loose has
power and Liberty to fly; but not that the bird’s power of flying
has a power and Liberty of flying. To be free is the property of an
agent, who is possessed of powers and faculties, as much as to be
cunning, valiant, bountiful, or zealous. But these qualities are
the properties of men or persons and not the properties of

There are two things that are contrary to this which is called
Liberty, in common speech. One is constraint; the same is otherwise
called force, compulsion, and coaction; which is a person’s being
necessitated to do a thing contrary to his will. The other is
restraint; which is his being hindered, and not having power to do
according to his will. But that which has no will, cannot be the
subject of these things. I need say the less on this head, Mr.
Locke having set the same thing forth, with so great clearness, in
his Essay on the Human Understanding.

But one thing more I would observe concerning what is vulgarly
called Liberty; namely, that power and opportunity for one to do
and conduct as he will, or according to his choice, is all that is
meant by it; without taking into the meaning of the word anything
of the cause or original of that choice; or at all considering how
the person came to have such a volition; whether it was caused by
some external motive or internal habitual bias; whether it was
determined by some internal antecedent volition, or whether it
happened without a cause; whether it was necessarily connected with
something foregoing, or not connected. Let the person come by his
volition or choice how he will, yet, if he is able, and there is
nothing in the way to hinder his pursuing and executing his will,
the man is fully and perfectly free, according to the primary and
common notion of freedom.

What has been said may be sufficient to show what is meant by
Liberty, according to the common notions of mankind, and in the
usual and primary acceptation of the word: but the word, as used by
Arminians, Pelagians and others, who oppose the Calvinists, has an
entirely different signification. These several things belong to
their notion of Liberty. 1. That it consists in a self-determining
power in the will, or a certain sovereignty the will has over
itself, and its own acts, whereby it determines its own volitions;
so as not to be dependent, in its determinations, on any cause
without itself, nor determined by anything prior to its own acts.
2. Indifference belongs to Liberty in their notion of it, or that
the mind, previous to the act of volition, be in equilibrio. 3.
Contingence is another thing that belongs and is essential to it; –
not in the common acceptation of the word, as that has been already
explained, but as opposed to all necessity, or any fixed and
certain connection with some previous ground or reason of its
existence. They suppose the essence of Liberty so much to consist
in these things, that unless the will of man be free in this sense,
he has no real freedom, how much soever he may be at Liberty to act
according to his will.

A moral Agent is a being that is capable of those actions that
have a moral quality, and which can properly be denominated good or
evil in a moral sense, virtuous or vicious, commendable or faulty.
To moral Agency belongs a moral faculty, or sense of moral good and
evil, or of such a thing as desert or worthiness, of praise or
blame, reward or punishment; and a capacity which an agent has of
being influenced in his actions by moral inducements or motives,
exhibited to the view of understanding and reason, to engage to a
conduct agreeable to the moral faculty.

The sun is very excellent and beneficial in its action and
influence on the earth, in warming it, and causing it to bring
forth its fruits; but it is not a moral Agent. Its action, though
good, is not virtuous or meritorious. Fire that breaks out in a
city, and consumes great part of it, is very mischievous in its
operation; but is not a moral Agent. What it does is not faulty or
sinful, or deserving of any punishment. The brute creatures are not
moral Agents. The actions of some of them are very profitable and
pleasant; others are very hurtful; yet, seeing they have no moral
faculty, or sense of desert, and do not act from choice guided by
understanding, or with a capacity of reasoning and reflecting, but
only from instinct, and are not capable of being influenced by
moral inducements, their actions are not properly sinful or
virtuous; nor are they properly the subjects of any such moral
treatment for what they do, as moral Agents are for their faults or
good deeds.

Here it may be noted, that there is a circumstantial
difference between the moral Agency of a ruler and a subject. I
call it circumstantial, because it lies only in the difference of
moral inducements they are capable of being influenced by, arising
from the difference of circumstances. A ruler, acting, in that
capacity only, is not capable of being influenced by a moral law,
and its sanctions of threatenings and promises, rewards and
punishments, as the subject is; though both may be influenced by a
knowledge of moral good and evil. And therefore the moral agency of
the Supreme Being, who acts only in the capacity of a ruler toward
his creatures, and never as a subject, differs in that respect from
the moral Agency of created intelligent beings. God’s actions, and
particularly those which are to be attributed to him as moral
governor, are morally good in the highest degree. They are most
perfectly holy and righteous; and we must conceive of him as
influenced in the highest degree, by that which, above all others,
is properly a moral inducement, viz., the moral good which He sees
in such and such things: and therefore He is, in the most proper
sense, a moral Agent, the source of all moral ability and Agency,
the fountain and rule of all virtue and moral good; though by
reason of his being supreme over all, it is not possible He should
be under the influence of law or command, promises or threatenings,
rewards or punishments, counsels or warnings. The essential
qualities of a moral Agent are in God, in the greatest possible
perfection; such as understanding, to perceive the difference
between moral good and evil; a capacity of discerning that moral
worthiness and demerit, by which some things are praiseworthy,
others deserving of blame and punishment; and also a capacity of
choice, and choice guided by understanding, and a power of acting
according to his choice or pleasure, and being capable of doing
those things which are in the highest sense praiseworthy. And
herein does very much consist that image of God wherein He made man
(which we read of Gen. i. 26, 27, and chapter ix. 6), by which God
distinguishes man from the beasts, viz., in those faculties and
principles of nature, whereby he is capable of moral Agency. Herein
very much consists the natural image of God; as his spiritual and
moral image, wherein man was made at first, consisted in that moral
excellency, that he was endowed with.

Whether Any Event, or Volition, Can Come to Pass Without A Cause

ASSERT that nothing ever comes to pass without a Cause. What
is self-existent must be from eternity, and must be unchangeable;
but as to all things that begin to be, they are not self-existent,
and therefore must have some foundation of their existence without
themselves; that whatsoever begins to be which before was not, must
have a Cause why it then begins to exist, seems to be the first
dictate of the common and natural sense which God hath implanted in
the minds of all mankind, and the main foundation of all our
reasonings about the existence of things, past, present, or to

And this dictate of common sense equally respects substances
and modes, or things and the manner and circumstances of things. –
Thus, if we see a body which has hitherto been at rest, start out
of a state of rest, and begin to move, we do as naturally and
necessarily suppose there is some Cause or reason of this new mode
of existence, as of the existence of a body itself which had
hitherto not existed. And so if a body, which had hitherto moved in
a certain direction, should suddenly change the direction of its
motion; or if it should put off its old figure, and take a new one;
or change its color: the beginning of these new modes is a new
Event, and the mind of mankind necessarily supposes that there is
some Cause or reason of them.

If this grand principle of common sense be taken away, all
arguing from effects to Causes ceaseth, and go all knowledge of any
existence, besides what we have by the most direct and immediate
intuition. Particularly all our proof of the being of God ceases:
we argue his being from our own being and the being of other
things, which we are sensible once were not, but have begun to be;
and from the being of the world, with all its constituent parts,
and the manner of their existence; all which we see plainly are not
necessary in their own nature, and so not self-existent, and
therefore must have a Cause. But if things, not in themselves
necessary, may begin to be without a Cause, all this arguing is

But if once this grand principle of common sense be given up,
that what is not necessary in itself, must have a Cause; and we
begin to maintain, that things may come into existence, and begin
to be, which heretofore have not been, of themselves without any
Cause; all our means of ascending in our arguing from the creature
to the Creator, and all our evidence of the Being of God, is cut
off at one blow. In this case, we cannot prove that there is a God,
either from the Being of the world, and the creatures in it, or
from the manner of their being, their order, beauty and use. For if
things may come into existence without any Cause at all, then they
doubtless may without any Cause answerable to the effect. Our minds
do alike naturally suppose and determine both these things; namely,
that what begins to be has a Cause, and also that it has a Cause
proportionable and agreeable to the effect. The same principle
which leads us to determine that there cannot be anything coming to
pass without a Cause, leads us to determine that there cannot be
more in the effect than in the Cause.

Yea, if once it should be allowed, that things may come to
pass without a Cause, we should not only have no proof of the Being
of God, but we should be without evidence of the existence of
anything whatsoever, but our own immediately present ideas and
consciousness. For we have no way to prove any thing else, but by
arguing from effects to causes; from the ideas now immediately in
view, we argue other things not immediately in view: from
sensations now excited in us, we infer the existence of things
without us, as the Causes of these sensations; and from the
existence of these things, we argue other things, which they depend
on, as effects on Causes. We infer the past existence of ourselves,
or anything else, by memory; only as we argue that the ideas which
are now in our minds, are the consequences of past ideas and
sensations. We immediately perceive nothing else but the ideas
which are this moment extant in our minds. We perceive or know
other things only by means of these, as necessarily connected with
others, and dependent on them. But if things may be without Causes,
all this necessary connection and dependence is dissolved, and so
all means of our knowledge is gone. If there be no absurdity nor
difficulty in supposing one thing to start out of non-existence
into being, of itself without a Cause; then there is no absurdity
nor difficulty in supposing the same of millions of millions. For
nothing, or no difficulty multiplied, still is nothing, or no
difficulty, nothing multiplied by nothing, does not increase the

And indeed, according to the hypothesis I am opposing, of the
acts of the Will coming to pass without a Cause, it is the case in
fact, that millions of millions of Events are continually coming
into existence contingently, without any cause or reason why they
do so, all over the world, every day and hour, through all ages. So
it is in a constant succession, in every moral agent. This
contingency, this efficient nothing, this effectual No Cause, is
always ready at hand, to produce this sort of effects, as long as
the agent exists, and as often as he has occasion.

If it were so, that things only of one kind, viz., acts of the
Will, seemed to come to pass of themselves; but those of this sort
in general came into being thus; and it were an event that was
continual, and that happened in a course, wherever were capable
subjects of such events; this very thing would demonstrate that
there was some Cause of them, which made such a difference between
this Event and others, and that they did not really happen
contingently. For contingence is blind, and does not pick and
choose for a particular sort of events. Nothing has no choice. This
No Cause, which causes no existence, cannot cause the existence
which comes to pass, to be of one particular sort only,
distinguished from all others. Thus, that only one sort of matter
drops out of the heavens, even water, and that this comes so often,
so constantly and plentifully, all over the world, in all ages,
shows that there is some Cause or reason of the falling of water
out of the heavens; and that something besides mere contingence has
a hand in the matter.

If we should suppose nonentity to be about to bring forth; and
things were coming into existence, without any Cause or antecedent,
on which the existence, or kind, or manner of existence depends; or
which could at all determine whether the things should be stones,
or stars, or beasts, or angels, or human bodies, or souls, or only
some new motion or figure in natural bodies, or some new sensations
in animals, or new ideas in the human understanding, or new
volitions in the Will; or anything else of all the infinite number
of possibles; then certainly it would not be expected, although
many millions of millions of things are coming into existence in
this manner, all over the face of the earth, that they should all
be only of one particular kind, and that it should be thus in all
ages, and that this sort of existences should never fail to come to
pass where there is room for them, or a subject capable of them,
and that constantly whenever there is occasion for them.

If any should imagine, there is something in the sort of Event
that renders it possible for it to come into existence without a
Cause, and should say, that the free acts of the Will are
existence’s of an exceeding different nature from other things; by
reason of which they may come into existence without any previous
ground or reason of it, though other things cannot; if they make
this objection in good earnest, it would be an evidence of their
strangely forgetting themselves; for they would be giving an
account of some ground of the existence of a thing, when at the
same time they would maintain there is no ground of its existence.
Therefore I would observe, that the particular nature of existence,
be it ever so diverse from others, can lay -no foundation for that
thing’s coming into existence without a Cause; because to suppose
this, would be to suppose the particular nature of existence to be
a thing prior to the existence; and so a thing which makes way for
existence, with such a circumstance, namely, without a cause or
reason of existence. But that which in any respect makes way for a
thing’s coming into being, or for any manner or circumstance of its
first existence, must be prior to the existence. The distinguished
nature of the effect, which is something belonging to the effect,
cannot have influence backward, to act before it is. The peculiar
nature of that thing called volition, can do nothing, can have no
influence, while it is not. And afterwards it is too late for its
influence; for then the thing has made sure of existence already,
without its help.

So that it is indeed as repugnant to reason, to suppose that
an act of the Will should come into existence without a Cause, as
to suppose the human soul, or an angel, or the globe of the earth,
or the whole universe, should come into existence without a Cause.
And if once we allow, that such a sort of effect as a Volition may
come to pass without a Cause, how do we know but that many other
sorts of effects may do so too? It is not the particular kind of
effect that makes the absurdity of supposing it has been without a
Cause, but something which is common to all things that ever begin
to be, viz., that they are not self-existent, or necessary in the
nature of things.

The End