20 August, 2016

FAQ – God’s Will.





Q. 1. “What is Gods ‘will’?”

The starting point for a Reformed discussion on the will of God is the truth that God is one,44 absolutely sovereign, independent,45 and unchangeable God.46 God’s will is the infinitely wise, eternal, powerful, immutable and righteous essence of God actively willing.47 This truth determines that the will of God cannot be more than one, nor can it be in any way contradictory. John Owen rightly says:

The essence of God, being a most absolute, pure, simple act or substance, His will consequently can be but simply one: whereof we ought to make neither division nor distinction.48

To divide God’s will is to divide God’s being.49

God’s infinite will, unlike ours, comprehends all things by a single and most comprehensive act.50 Francis Turretin is helpful here, when he points out that

Although the will of God is only one and most simple, by which He comprehends all things by a single and most simple act so that He sees and understands all things at one glance, yet because that one will is occupied differently about various objects, it thus happens in our manner of conception, it may be apprehended as manifold ...51

What may appear manifold to our finite minds is in reality a perfect oneness, unity and simplicity of will within the being of the infinite God. It is surely to be expected that we finite creatures will not be able to wrap our puny minds around the wisdom and will of the infinite God. But one thing we can and must wrap our minds around is the fact that within the Being and will of God there can be no division, and therefore no hint of contradiction.

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NOTES:

46. Num. 23:19; I Sam. 15:29; Isa. 46:10; Mal. 3:6; James 1:17.
47. A. A. Hodge, Outlines of Theology (New York: Robert Carter and Brothers), p. 150.
48. John Owen, The Works of John Owen (Banner of Truth Trust, 1967), vol. X, p. 44.
49. H. C. Hoeksema, whose arguments against William Heyns of the Christian Reformed Church are yet to be adequately refuted, maintains that this is a recipe for two Gods. This, he rightly argues, is because God’s will and His very being cannot be separated. God’s will is the being of God willing. See the Protestant Reformed Theological Journal, vol. 9, no. 2 (April 1976).
50 Deut. 6:4; Eph. 1:11.
51. Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, vol. 1, p. 220.

(Rev. Christopher J. Connors, “The Biblical Offer of the Gospel”)

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Q. 2. “What is God’s ‘decretive’ will (or ‘will of decree’)?”

God’s decretive will is defined in the Westminster Shorter Catechism as His “eternal purpose, according to the counsel of His own will, whereby, for His own glory, He hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.” (Shorter Catechism, 7). (Rev. Christopher J. Connors, “The Biblical Offer of the Gospel”)

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Q. 3. “What is God’s ‘preceptive’ will (or ‘will of command’)?”

The “preceptive will” is that revealed will of God which is set forth in Holy Scripture as the rule God is pleased to make known for man’s duty. (Rev. Christopher J. Connors, “The Biblical Offer of the Gospel”)

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Q. 4. “Is not God’s commands/precepts called His ‘will’?”

The first thing we need to establish is that the preceptive will can be called God’s will only in a metaphorical sense. The preceptive will, is not God within Himself (ad infra) “willing” as a rule for His own actions, but what God “wills” to reveal outside Himself (ad extra) as the rule for the creature’s actions. There is a clear difference between the two. The preceptive will terminates outside God’s essence as that which He actively wills, or decrees, to require of man, while the decretive will abides within Himself as His living will in regard to His own actions. The preceptive will, therefore, falls as a proposition of God’s decretive will with respect to what man is required to do. In this way the preceptive will is rightly said to be an aspect of God’s all wise providence in respect to man.

The Biblical relationship as set forward in the Westminster Confession could be illustrated as follows:

God’s Nature >>> God’s Decrees >>> Providence & Preceptive Will

God freely chooses to reveal the goodness of His being. This revelation is not necessary but free, and it is always by means of, or, according to His sovereign will. God’s sovereign will determines that the precept be revealed as a chief means whereby God accomplishes His eternal purposes among men.

(Rev. Christopher J. Connors, “The Biblical Offer of the Gospel”)

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Q. 5. “What is this idea floating around today whereby God has ‘two wills’—a will to save the elect, but another will (secret or hidden) to save the reprobate?”

[Some] teach that God has two wills, the first of which is eternal, unchangeable, and sovereign (irresistible); the second of which is changeable, resistible, and temporary, contradicting the first will of God. They say that God does eternally choose some to salvation in Jesus Christ; that is, he wills their salvation. However, so it is said, God also wills the salvation of all men, because he expresses in the preaching of the gospel a desire (will) that all men be saved. According to this teaching, God wills (in the gospel) and doesn’t will (in predestination) the salvation of some. And insofar as he does will the salvation of all in the preaching, that will is never fulfilled, is only for the here and now and not for eternity, and is incomplete and unfulfilled. (Rev. Ronald Hanko, “Doctrine According to Godliness,” pp. 78-79.)

Those who hold to a free offer and still want to retain some semblance of being Calvinistic and Reformed make a distinction … between the will of God’s decree and the will of His command; or, as is sometimes said, between God’s decretive will and His preceptive will. According to this strange notion, God’s decretive will purposes the salvation only of the elect, while God’s preceptive will purposes the salvation of all who hear the gospel. Thus God has two wills that are in direct conflict. (Prof. Herman C. Hanko “The History of the Free Offer,” chapter 11)

There are contemporary Calvinists who hold … that God has two contradictory wills or desires. According to this theory, God in His decretive will desires the salvation of only the elect, but in His preceptive will desires the salvation of all sinners. (British Reformed Journal, Issue 9 [January - March 1995], pp. 24-25.)

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Q. 6. “Isn’t the contemporary view of ‘two wills in God’ contradictory (i.e. God both desiring and not desiring the same thing)? How do advocates of this contemporary view get around this?”

The conflict is so obvious that even the supporters of this view (and their number is legion) find it a bit difficult to swallow. So in justification of this, they fall back on a sort of last line of defense and plead “apparent contradiction.” They piously assure us (and it sounds truly pious) that God’s ways are so much higher than our ways that we cannot fathom them. What to us seems to be contradictory, to God is a perfect harmony. All we can do is hold the two apparently contradictory propositions in proper tension. (Prof. Herman C. Hanko “The History of the Free Offer,” chapter 11.)

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Q. 7. “What is your objection to this contemporary idea?”

We object to this teaching, because it says that God’s will, and therefore God Himself, is incomplete, unfulfilled, changeable, resistible (not sovereign), and temporary. It says that there is contradiction (imperfection) in God. It even teaches that He is not one, but two, since He is of two minds about things. All of this denies that God is really God.
Scripture teaches that God has one will and that He accomplishes everything He wills. Psalm 115:3 and Psalm 135:56 plainly teach this in the context of some powerful statements about idolatry. To say that God does not do all His will—that His will can remain incomplete and unfulfilled—is to say that He is not God and thus to commit the sin of idolatry. (Rev. Ronald Hanko, “Doctrine According to Godliness,” p. 79.)

The most obvious fallacy involved with this is the violence it does to God’s character in saying that He is subject to divine schizophrenia (New Latin, “split mind”), and to the character of God’s special revelation in saying that it does not give an adequate or even true picture of “the way things really are” as God decrees them. Furthermore, the fact that God wills the salvation of only some is revealed in His preceptive will (or else we would not know about it), and that we have a special revelation or preceptive will at all is due to the fact that it is contained in God’s decretive will. (British Reformed Journal, Issue 9 [January - March 1995], pp. 24-25.)

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Q. 8. “Why cannot one hold and believe two apparently contradictory propositions at the same time? (e.g. God desires the salvation of all men, and God does not desire the salvation of all men)”

Consider the following as an illustration of what people actually end up doing when presented with two contradictory wills:
Let’s say you’re a child again, and you want to go and play football in the park, and your mother says at one part of the day, “I don’t allow you to play football in the park.  You’re wearing your good jeans and you’ll ruin them …” And then at another time of the day, your mother says “Yes you can go and play in the park.” And then she sees you through the window out in the park playing football, and she says “What on earth are you doing?!” And then you say, “You said I could go and play in the park didn’t you? You gave me two options: ‘Don’t go and play in the park’ and ‘Yes you can go and play in the park.’ So I picked the one option that I liked best …”
What do people do when they are the two wills of God? They pick the one that suits them! And, more often than not, you end up in the Arminian view—for the Arminian view is always easier: easier for fellowshipping with people, easier to preach because you’re not contradicting the will of man; and the more you preach it, you end up with the Reformed faith not fitting, and you end up with more and more Arminian ideas in the congregation and Arminian people in the pew.
I know a little bit about the congregations of some of the people who teach the “free offer” … They’re filled with Arminians; and they are filled with people in the Sunday school who are teaching the children of the church Arminianism. And if the minister had a heart for the Reformed faith, why isn’t he going to admonish these people? But what are they going to say? “You said I could go and play football … You gave me two options, and I picked the one I like best.”
You can’t teach two things that don’t make sense.

(Rev. Angus Stewart—public lecture on “God’s Saving Will in the New Testament,” Q&A Session)

[It] ought to be apparent to all that this sort of argumentation ultimately leads to theological skepticism. If there is contradiction possible at such a critical juncture of the truth, then there is contradiction possible at any juncture of the truth. Then man can be both totally depraved and relatively good. Then grace is both resistible and irresistible. Then God is both triune and not triune. Then justification is both by faith alone and also by faith and works. Then the atonement of Christ is both efficacious and ineffectual. And so one can go on. But this makes any knowledge of the truth impossible and mires one in the slime of subjectivism and skepticism. (Prof. Herman C. Hanko “The History of the Free Offer,” chapter 11)

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Q. 9. “What is the judgment upon this idea of two distinct but contradictory wills in God?”

[This] doctrine of two wills in God is an invention. Any Reformer, including Calvin, who reprobated the idea in the strongest possible terms, has never held it. It is sheer human invention that masks an attempt to be both Arminian and Reformed at the same time. (Prof. Herman C. Hanko “The History of the Free Offer,” chapter 11)

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Q. 10. “How do we rectify this problem? Is there any validity at all in making distinctions within the will of God between His decrees and His precepts/commandments?”

God’s will has historically and very helpfully been spoken of in chiefly two ways: there is the “will of God’s decree” (i.e. what God shall do—this refers to His eternal counsel which determined absolutely everything that shall come to pass) and there is the “will of God’s command” (i.e. what He tells us we should do—this refers to His moral, ethical requirements which are summed in the Ten Commandments). (Rev. Angus Stewart—public lecture on “God’s Saving Will in the New Testament”)

This does not mean that the distinction itself is not valid. It is certainly true that Scripture indicates to us that, within the one will of God, we may distinguish between God’s will of decree and God’s will of precept. The danger of evil enters when we set these two over against each other in such a way that these two not only indicate two separate wills of God, but two wills which are in conflict with each other. (Prof. Herman C. Hanko “The History of the Free Offer,” chapter 11)

The proper distinction is rather between God’s will of decree (which deals with the indicative—what He will do) and His will of command (which deals with the imperative—what we ought to do). The use of grammatical terms at this point is deliberate. Those who hold to two different and differing wills and desires in God usually violate a simple law of logic in their exegesis by making indicative inferences from imperative sentences.  (British Reformed Journal, Issue 9 [January - March 1995], pp. 24-25.)

This distinction between a decretive and a revealed (or preceptive) will of God is both sound and necessary, and one to which all orthodox Calvinistic divines have had recourse. To quote Francis Turretin: “The first and principal distinction is that of the decretive and preceptive will of God ... The former relates to the futurition and the event of things and is the rule of God’s external acts; the latter is concerned with precepts and promises and is the rule of our action.” (Matthew Winzer, “Murray on the Free Offer,” quoting Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology Volume 1 (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 1992), p. 220. C.f. John Owen, Works Volume 10 (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1987), p. 45, for a similar but fuller treatment of the distinction.)
                                                                                                                                    
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Q. 11. “So if God has a ‘will of decree’ and a ‘will of command,’ how do we interpret this in the light of the truth that God only has one divine will?”

These “two wills” must be seen as different aspects of the same simple will and desire of God, and both are equally concerned with the conversion of the elect and the hardening of the reprobate (as with Pharaoh). (British Reformed Journal, Issue 9 [January - March 1995], pp. 24-25.)

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Q. 12. “Does not even the proper distinction between Gods “will of decree” and “will of command” imply that God has two wills?”

Such a distinction must never be understood as implying that God has two wills. For it is clear from the above definition that the word will is being used in two different senses, i.e., equivocally, having two distinct points of reference. (Rev. Matthew Winzer, “Murray on the Free Offer: A Review”)

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Q. 13. “You say that only the ‘will of decree’ is the will of God in the proper sense of the term as an act of volition. Is there historical support for that?”

Samuel Rutherford expresses this well in his own inimitable manner:


… that voluntas signi, in which God reveals what is our duty, and what we ought to do, not what is his decree, or what he either will, or ought to do, is not God’s will properly, but by a figure only; for commands, and promises, and threatenings revealed argue not the will and purpose, decree or intention of God, which are properly his will. (Samuel Rutherford, Christ Dying and Drawing Sinners to Himself (Glasgow: Samuel and Archibald Gardner, 1803), p. 480.)

The will of precept has no volitional content, for it simply states what God has commanded ought to be done by man. Whether man wills to do it is absolutely dependent upon whether God has decreed that he shall do it. So it is quite inappropriate to say that God wills something to be with reference to His will of command, for the preceptive will never pertains to the futurition of actions, only to the obligation of them.

(Matthew Winzer, “Murray on the Free Offer: A Review”)

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Q. 14. “But does not a ‘command’ of God entail a desire of God?”

When we come to the will of God’s decree, that definitely is what God desires, wishes and wants to happen—and therefore it comes about. When we deal with the commands of God, on the other hand, they don’t tell us what God desires or wishes or wants to happen—they tell us what God is pleased with.

If a command of God means that God wants every individual person to do it, what does that do to God? Thomas Aquinas [described] God as “the unmoved Mover,” [but the] view of a ‘command’ of God requiring that God desires that it take place makes God “the most frustrated Desirer ever.” Think of it this way: The unbeliever, because of his total depravity, cannot do any good (“There is none that doeth good”—Rom. 3:12). [If we follow the idea that God’s commands tell us what God ‘desires,’ then you end up with] the majority of people, all of their life, frustrating a desire of God. Think of the [elect child of God]—some are regenerated as infants and others are regenerated later: Let’s say there’s someone who’s effectually called when he’s thirty years old, so that everything up to that thirty years was only sinful and nothing righteous and pleasing to God in [anything] that person did. Then, after that person is converted, the good that he would, he does not, and the evil that he would not, that he does (cf. Rom. 7:14-16)—i.e. even in the good that he does, there is always sin; and, for use of a better phrase, even in the evil that we do, there is always a little bit of good in it—for you always hate it as a believer. So if every command means that God desires it (e.g. the Ten Commandments: “no other gods before Me; worship Me only in the way that I tell you; don’t take the name of the Lord God in vain and remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy; honour all authority over you; no killing, adultery, stealing, lying or coveting …”)—you end up with God’s desires with regard to the reprobate and all their lives … thwarted; and then all the life of the elect before they’re saved (more unfulfilled desires), and then with regard to the believer, as he never seems to do anything perfect either … This view ends up with God just incredibly frustrated, failed desires—all these things He wished and wanted to happen never happen (the opposite happens), and that He decreed these things so that they would never happen (He decreed the fall, He decreed reprobation, He decreed that Christ wouldn’t die for the reprobate, He decreed that He wouldn’t regenerate them or reveal Christ to them, or preserve them or keep them, or glorify them, or raise them up at the resurrection …) What does that do to God? [The] Bible talks about God’s will being sovereign, gracious, saving, etc.
A command of God doesn’t show what God desires. It shows what pleases God. So you can say to an unbeliever “You should repent, because your life has been totally displeasing to God and wicked. And this would be the first thing you do that has ever pleased God.” And you can say to someone who’s a Christian, “You need to change the way you are living in this area of your life because that’s dishonouring to God. This pleases Him. This is the good, perfect, acceptable and pleasing will of God (cf. Rom. 12:2, which is dealing with the will of command).”

(Rev. Angus Stewart—public lecture on “God’s Saving Will in the New Testament,” Q&A Session)







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