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Free Will of Man

 

Saint Irenaeus was born 130 ad and became bishop of Lyons (France) 177 ad. He was a disciple of St. Polycarp, who himself was a disciple of St. John the Evangelist. St. Polycarp is the "angel of the church in Smyrna" mentioned in  Revelation 2:8-11. Saint Irenaeus died as a martyr 202 ad. He wrote his book "Against Heresies" circa 180 ad.
This expression [of our Lord], "How often would I have gathered thy children together, and thou wouldest not,"(Matt 23:37) set forth the ancient law of human liberty, because God made man a free [agent] from the beginning, possessing his own power, even as he does his own soul, to obey the behests of God voluntarily, and not by compulsion of God. For there is no coercion with God, but a good will [towards us] is present with Him continually. And therefore does He give good counsel to all. And in man, as well as in angels, He has placed the power of choice (for angels are rational beings), so that those who had yielded obedience might justly possess what is good, given indeed by God, but preserved by themselves. On the other hand, they who have not obeyed shall, with justice, be not found in possession of the good, and shall receive condign punishment: for God did kindly bestow on them what was good; but they themselves did not diligently keep it, nor deem it something precious, but poured contempt upon His super-eminent goodness. Rejecting therefore the good, and as it were spuing it out, they shall all deservedly incur the just judgment of God, which also the Apostle Paul testifies in his Epistle to the Romans, where he says, "But dost thou despise the riches of His goodness, and patience, and long-suffering, being ignorant that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? But according to thy hardness and impenitent heart, thou treasurest to thyself wrath against the day of wrath, and the revelation of the righteous judgment of God." "But glory and honour," he says, "to every one that doeth good."(Rom 2:5-7) God therefore has given that which is good, as the apostle tells us in this Epistle, and they who work it shall receive glory and honour, because they have done that which is good when they had it in their power not to do it; but those who do it not shall receive the just judgement of God, because they did not work good when they had it in their power so to do.
    But if some had been made by nature bad, and others good, these latter would not be deserving of praise for being good, for such were they created; nor would the former be reprehensible, for thus they were made [originally]. But since all men are of the same nature, able both to hold fast and to do what is good; and, on the other hand, having also the power to cast it from them and not to do it,--some do justly receive praise even among men who are under the control of good laws (and much more from God), and obtain deserved testimony of their choice of good in general, and of persevering therein; but the others are blamed, and receive a just condemnation, because of their rejection of what is fair and good. And therefore the prophets used to exhort men to what was good, to act justly and to work righteousness, as I have so largely demonstrated, because it is in our power so to do, and because by excessive negligence we might become forgetful, and thus stand in need of that good counsel which the good God has given us to know by means of the prophets.
    And not merely in works, but also in faith, has God preserved the will of man free and under his own control, saying, "According to thy faith be it unto thee; "(Mat 9:29) thus showing that there is a faith specially belonging to man, since he has an opinion specially his own. And again, "All things are possible to him that believeth;"(Mark 9:23) and, "Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee."(Mat 8:13) Now all such expressions demonstrate that man is in his own power with respect to faith. And for this reason, "he that believeth  in Him has eternal life while he who believeth not the Son hath not eternal life, but the wrath of God shall remain upon him."(John 3:36) In the same manner therefore the Lord, both showing His own goodness, and indicating that man is in his own free will and his own power, said to Jerusalem, "How often have I wished to gather thy children together, as a hen [gathereth] her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Wherefore your house shall be left unto you desolate." (Mat 23:37-38)

SAINT IRENAEUS: AGAINST HERESIES,  BOOK IV,  CHAP. XXXVII. 1,2,5, ANF, vol.1. can be accessed online at:
Early Church Fathers