15 February, 2018

FAQ—Do God’s ‘commands’ tell us what God ‘desires,’ ‘wishes,’ or ‘wants’ to happen?





Q. 1. “Where does God’s ‘desire’ stand with regards to His will?”

The desire of God is always in His decree and the end which it achieves. (EPCA, “Universalism and the Reformed Churches”)

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) … 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. (Rev. Angus Stewart—public lecture, “God’s Saving Will in the New Testament”)

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Q. 2. “Does not God’s command tell us what God desires?”

A command of God doesn’t show what God desires. It merely shows what pleases God. (Rev. Angus Stewart)

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. 3. “What sort of problems arise when we say that a ‘command’ of God entails a ‘desire’ of God?”

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, “God’s Saving Will in the New Testament,” Q&A Session)

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Q. 4. “Is God’s preceptive will (what He commands) a reflection or revelation of His very heart and nature?”

It is. God’s precepts reveal God’s holiness and what He approves of. (Rev. Angus Stewart)

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Q. 5. “What is the difference between someone simply ‘approving’ or being ‘pleased with’ something, and someone actually ‘desiring’ or ‘wishing’ something to take place?”

A desire unrealised implies frustration, impotence and failure. However, if X approves of action Y and action Y is not done, X is not frustrated and has not failed, etc. (Rev. Angus Stewart)

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Q. 6. “Are God’s commands properly called His ‘revealed’ will?”

Yes, but it is also revealed in Scripture that God freely wills to save some and not all (election and reprobation).
The phrase “God’s revealed will” is ambiguous and needs to be defined carefully in the 21st century because people use it to smuggle in false ideas. Some, for instance, contrast ‘secret’ will (election) and ‘revealed’ will (commands) to say that the Bible says little about election and reprobation, that we should basically ignore it, focus on the commands, and see in them a desire of God to save everybody. (Rev. Angus Stewart)

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Q. 7. “Are we to say then that God doesn’t desire that all men repent and come to faith in Christ?”

People are to be ‘called’ to repent and believe, but this does not mean God ‘desires’ all men to repent and believe. (Rev. Angus Stewart)

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Q. 8. “Do not the Canons of Dordt III/IV, 8 tell us that God desires all men to repent and believe when it states: ‘For God hath most earnestly and truly shown in His word ‘what is pleasing to Him,’ namely, that those who are called should come to Him. He moreover ‘seriously promises’ eternal life and rest to as many as shall come to Him and believe on Him.’”

The Canons say that repentance and faith are ‘pleasing’ to God, not that God ‘desires’ the reprobate to be saved. (Rev. Angus Stewart)

With regard to [Canons III/IV, 8], the subject is not what God desires, or wills, but what pleases Him. He has delight in men’s believing on Christ and coming to God by Him. Faith pleases Him. Unbelief displeases Him. It is the same as the truth expressed in Acts 4 at the end—the wicked murder of His Son displeased God, but He Himself determined that death for our salvation. There is no contradiction. God is not required to give the faith that pleases Him to any man. The unbelief that displeases Him is not His doing in men, but their own wickedness. (Prof. David J. Engelsma)

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Q. 9. “If God says to the reprobate ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved,’ but really has no desire for them to do such, but rather only desires for them to continue in their hardness of heart and unbelief, would that not make God a liar or a trickster or double minded?

Think it through … Did God “desire” Pharoah to let Israel go before the 1st plague? And what about a god who supposedly really wants to save everybody but takes zero steps to achieve this? Instead, He does loads of things to do the exact opposite: reprobate, hatred, hardening, etc. Sounds like a double-minded and insincere God! (Rev. Angus Stewart)

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Q. 10. “Are not unbelievers rendered without excuse on the judgment day if God is said to not ‘desire’ their salvation? After all, in rejecting the gospel and refusing to repent they acted according to God’s desire, didn’t they?”

This argument could just as easily be made by Arminians: “If Christ has not died for everyone, then the gospel command does not leave them without excuse ...”
Unbelievers are left without excuse because they were told by God what they should do (and what He approves of) but they wickedly refused.
This argument also proves too much: unless God desires that I be 100% holy, then I have an excuse for every sin! (Rev. Angus Stewart)

One should not speak of God’s desire that men are unbelieving, but of His determinate will.  God’s command to the reprobate that they believe expresses His will of command, and their duty. His counsel that these same persons not believe is His will of decree. This distinction is plainly biblical. God commanded Pharaoh to let His people go. This was Pharaoh's duty. At the same time, God hardened the king’s heart so that he would not obey the command. This is His will of decree. The account in Exodus and the reference to the event in Romans 9 teach this explicitly. Men are judged not according to the decree, but according to the command. Objection to the biblical teaching of the decree is opposition to the sovereignty of God. (Prof. David J. Engelsma)

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Q. 11. “We must distinguish between Gods ‘revealed decree’ and His ‘hidden counsel.’”

A better way, to avoid confusion, is to distinguish between God’s “will of decree” and “will of command.”

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Q. 12. “Did not Christ Himself weep over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-44) though He did not decree its salvation but rather its destruction? Does not this weeping of Christ indicate a desire for the salvation of the entire nation?”

In the parallel passage of Luke 19, Matthew 23:37, with which Luke 19 must be compared, Jesus teaches His will to gather Jerusalem’s children, distinguishing Jerusalem and her children. Jesus did not will to gather all “Jerusalem,” that is, the members of the Jewish nation, but her “children.”
Despite the nation’s opposition in its officials, Jesus did gather Jerusalem’s children. His will to salvation was definite—Jerusalem’s children—and this will was accomplished despite the opposition of Jerusalem’s officials.
Jesus’ weeping over Jerusalem was not sorrow over a frustrated will to save all, but characteristically human grief over the fatal wickedness of a city and people that had once been the city and people of God. The sin of unbelief with its certain consequences of destruction grieved Jesus, as a man, deeply. This in no way implied the failure of Jesus as God’s Savior to save all whom the Father had given Him in the decree of election, namely, Jerusalem's “children”—the elect Jacobs in distinction from the reprobate Esaus. (Prof. David J. Engelsma)


For further quotes on Matthew 23:37 and Luke 19:41-44, check out the following:



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Q. 13. “God gave 631 laws to the nation of Israel. Are you saying that He did not intend for them to be kept?”

He ‘commanded’ that they were to be kept, which indicates that the keeping of them pleases Him and the breaking of them angers Him. But what is meant by “intend”? Decree? No. Command and be pleased with obedience, yes. But the question seems to mean something between these two things. (Rev. Angus Stewart)

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Q. 14. “What is the relation between the desire of God and the law’s requirement of obedience? Though God commands all men to walk in obedience to His law, why does God not ‘desire’ all men to do so?”

[The] desire of God concerning the fulfilment of His moral law, is inseparable from its fulfilment by His grace.
Scripture teaches, “without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5), so that it must follow that God does not desire that wicked men without grace, obey His precepts. By His grace, God requires and desires the obedience of those whom He has effectually called by His Spirit. “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).
For God to desire that men shall act outside His grace in obedience to His precepts, would violate His own moral order. For God to desire the salvation of men and not grant them the means of grace, which is essential to save them would make Him a monster. For men to imagine that they can please God without grace, makes them Pelagians. The Scripture teaches that without faith it is impossible to please God, for faith is a gift of God. (EPCA, “Universalism and the Reformed Churches”)

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Q. 15 “Are you saying He commands us to do and be something He doesn’t desire for us to be?”

His commands tell us what is right, what He approves of, and what we must do. What God desires, since He is all-powerful and irresistible, always happens—i.e. His decree, His good pleasure in Christ to glorify Himself—Job 23:13. (Rev. Angus Stewart)

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Q. 16. “How are we to interpret the words ‘this is the will of God’ in I Thessalonians 4:3?”

The text is referring to God’s will of command. This is what He demands people to do, what pleases Him, and that fornication is what He is awfully displeased with and punishes (Heb. 13:4). (Rev. Angus Stewart)

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Q. 17. “What is the difference between someone ‘requiring’ something, and someone ‘desiring’ something?”

Requiring is a demand, something you must do. Desiring is wanting/wishing. The well-meant offer teaches a desire, want, or wish of God that is not fulfilled with regard to the reprobate and therefore implies a God who is failing and frustrated. (Rev. Angus Stewart)

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Q. 18. “Why is it absurd to posit a desire of God that something shall happen which He has determined shall not happen?”


This divides God by introducing contrariety into His nature. It supposes what the Remonstrant Corvinus was ready to grant, “that there are desires in God that are never fulfilled.” But as John Owen ably retorted: “Now, surely, to desire what one is sure will never come to pass is not an act regulated by wisdom or counsel.” (Rev. Matthew Winzer, “Murray on the Free Offer: A Review”; see John Owen, “Works,” vol. 10, p. 25)

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Q. 19. “Do we have historical support for the idea that only the will of decree is the will of God in the proper sense of the term, as an act of volition?”


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)

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Q. 20. “Does not the preceptive will reveal what is ‘pleasing’ or ‘delightful’ to God?”

No one denies that the preceptive will reveals what is pleasing or delightful to God, or that repentance and faith are things pleasing to God. But Reformed theology cannot accept the conclusion … that the precept indicates a delight, pleasure, wish, desire or any other volitional quality within God to the actual repentance of every man. That notion destroys the simplicity of God’s will. The unity of God’s will is found in the fact that the preceptive will reveals that God delights in the salvation of repentant sinners, while God’s decretive will has sovereignly determined to which sinners in particular God is pleased to grant repentance.
Between the delight of God’s nature and the will of His decree there is a most perfect and consummate harmony. The universalism [of the “well-meant” offer] destroys this unity.
There is and can be no contradiction within the will of God, or between God’s will of delight and His decree. God’s decree, after all, is God willing His “eternal good pleasure” or delight. [The “well-meant” offer makes] God’s will contradictory and thereby turn it into a complex will and a “profound mystery” … God cannot be divided. (Rev. Christopher J. Connors, “The Biblical Offer of the Gospel”)







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