Works of God- Providence: Free Agency- Book Third- Chapter 3- Section 5
SECTION V.–FREE AGENCY.
What is free agency? If it signifies freedom from accountability to a higher power, there is no free agent but God. This, however, is not the sense in which the term is technically employed, and in which it denote voluntary agency–agency without compulsion.
A creature who acts voluntarily, and knows the difference between right and wrong, is a proper subject of moral government. The common sense of mankind holds such an one accountable for his actions. We do not enter into a metaphysical inquiry to ascertain by what mental process the volition was formed; but it is enough for us to know that it was formed. If a man does what he did not intend, to do, we admit the plea of involuntariness; but, when the intention to perpetrate the deed is proved, together with knowledge of its criminality, no metaphysical subtleties exempt him, in the uniform judgment of mankind, from being held accountable.
Some have maintained that, in order to responsible agency, it is necessary that the will should have a self-determining power. It is, they maintain, not only necessary that the agent should have acted voluntarily, but he should have the power to will otherwise than he did. That he should have had the power to act otherwise than he did, is implied in his acting voluntarily, i.e. without compulsion, and is, therefore, necessary to his accountability; but the power to will otherwise than he did, is a superaddition to voluntariness, which the common sense of mankind does not inquire into; yet, as a metaphysical perplexity, it claims our attention.
Self-determining power of the will.–It is inconsistent with philosophical accuracy to speak of the will as determining or deciding. The faculties of the mind are not distinct agents, possessing a separate existence from the mind itself. We may say that a man understands or wills, or that his mind understands or wills; but to say that his understanding understands, or his will wills, is bad philosophy. If it be conceived that the will determines itself, as without choice, a supposition is admitted which will not at all accord with views of those who advocate the self-determining power of the will. But, if it be conceived that the will determines by choice, or any other mental process, then the will is represented as a distinct agent, having a mind of its own.
Power of the will.–Here is another incongruity. In the external acts of men, power and will are concomitants necessary to the act. Without either, the act cannot be. But to an act of willing, what is necessary besides the will itself? What power must be conjoined with it? What a supposition it would be, that the will has a will to put forth a volition, but has not the power! Yet something like this must be conceived, to give a distinct and intelligible meaning to the phrase, “self-determining power of the will.”
John L. Dagg- Manual of Theology