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Definitions of Doctrine-Volume 1-Chapter 20-The Will of God

April 17, 2015 2 comments

CHAPTER 20-THE WILL OF GOD

In all intelligent beings there is a will, men and angels and God have wills. In men the will is the faculty of the mind by which choice is made of a future action determined upon. In willing a man has the purpose of action in view. And his will is the cause of the action, else he would be a mere machine or automation. If I take a gun and shoot another man, the will worked before the hand did; the purpose was before the act. But if I am held by another man, and a gun is placed in my hand, and another hand moves my finger to pull the trigger, that is not my act because I did not will or choose to do it. In that act I was not a responsible being, but a mere machine or tool of another.

In God the will is the attribute by which He determines and executes future events. “And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day” (#Joh 6:39). His will includes “whatsoever comes to pass,” hence everything that comes to pass is providential and not accidental so far as God is concerned. “In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will” (#Eph 1:11). The sparrow does not fall without the will of God.

Webster defines Providence as an event divinely ordained. Now it is well known that events happen in sequence, that is, they are related in order of time and one event is the cause of another event. So it seems evident, that if some events are ordained then all events are ordained. It is usual for men to distinguish events as providential and accidental. Even Christians are prone to classify their experiences either as providential or accidental. They associate providence with good things, and accident with evil things; therefore, they speak of having an accident. The Rickenbacker party regarded their rescue at sea as providential, but the writer regards the whole of their experiences as providential. The fall of their plane into the sea was as much providential as was their rescue. We need to see God’s will in our afflictions as well as in our blessings. Job was speaking of both “And said, Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (#Job 1:21). And when his wife pleaded with him to curse God and die, “But he said unto her, Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this did not Job sin with his lips” (#Job 2:10). And when he had lost all earthly comforts; seeing God’s hand in it all he said, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him” (#Job 13:15).

The will of God includes the wicked actions of sinful men, but does not take away their blame worthiness. We may not see how this can be, but the Scriptures declare it and we should believe it. The Scriptures were not written to confirm our reasoning but rather to correct it. On the day of Pentecost Peter said, concerning Jesus, “Him being delivered by the determinate counsel (will) and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain” (#Ac 2:23). And on a later occasion he said that “For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel (will) determined before to be done” (#Ac 4:27,28). We may not be able to see how God can will or determine a sin without becoming the author of sin, but the fact remains that the greatest of all sins, the slaying of the Son of God, was divinely ordained.

DISTINCTIONS IN THE WILL OF GOD

Theologians have made many distinctions in the will of God; some of them are false, others are vain and useless, but there is one distinction that is necessary, and which will prove helpful in rightly dividing the word of truth. This is that which distinguishes between God’s decretive will and His preceptive will, or His will of purpose and His will of command. God’s will of purpose is always done; His will of command is often left undone. God’s will of purpose cannot be thwarted, for this would mean His dethronement; His will of command is often violated, for men are in rebellion against Him. If the human will is greater in power than the Divine will then, of course, this human rebellion will succeed and God will be dethroned. If human rebellion can overthrow the government of God, we have no supreme Being at all. To further amplify the distinction between God’s decretive and preceptive wills we will consider each separately.

GOD’S WILL OF PURPOSE

1. It is eternal. God is not forming any new purposes, for His counsels are of old: “O LORD, thou art my God; I will exalt thee, I will praise thy name; for thou hast done wonderful things; thy counsels of old are faithfulness and truth” (#Isa 25:1). His purpose in Christ is said to be eternal: “According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord:” (#Eph 3:11). What is to be will be, therefore, “Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world” (#Ac 15:18).

2. It is effectual. God’s will of purpose is always accomplished. God is not man that He should engage in wishful thinking. There are no mere wishes with Him which He cannot perform. “The LORD of hosts hath sworn, saying, Surely as I have thought, so shall it come to pass; and as I have purposed, so shall it stand: That I will break the Assyrian in my land, and upon my mountains tread him under foot: then shall his yoke depart from off them, and his burden depart from off their shoulders. This is the purpose that is purposed upon the whole earth: and this is the hand that is stretched out upon all the nations. For the LORD of hosts hath purposed, and who shall disannul it? and his hand is stretched out, and who shall turn it back?” (#Isa 14:24-27). For example, back in eternity God willed or determined the death of His Son, and centuries after time began we see Him controlling and directing the free actions of sinful men to bring this event to pass. Moreover, He predestinated and predicted the detail when, where, and how His Son should die. And so in the four gospels we are told that this and that was done to Him that the Scripture might be fulfilled.

3. It is immutable. God never changes His will of purpose. There are only two possible reasons for anybody changing his will; it must be either because he sees that what he purposed was not wise, or that he sees it cannot be accomplished. But neither of these reasons can apply to God. He was All wise in planning and is All powerful in performing.

Prayer does not change God’s will, but it does change things. Changes wrought by prayer are all within the circle of God’s purposing will. “And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God” (#Ro 8:27). Answered prayer is made in the energy of the Holy Spirit. A man may pray without the Spirit and get what he asks for, but it would not be in answer to prayer. Two generals on opposing sides may pray for victory in the coming battle, but both could not be praying in the Holy Spirit, and it is possible that neither of them are. In all true prayer this thought is implied or expressed: Not my will but Thine be done.

“Thy way, not mine, O Lord,
However dark it be;
O lead me by Thine own right hand,
Choose out the path for me.

“I dare not choose my lot;
I would not if I might;
But choose Thou for me, O my God,
So shall I walk aright.

“Take thou my cup, and it
With joy or sorrow fill;
As ever best to Thee may seem,
Choose Thou my good and ill.

“Not mine, not mine the choice,
In things of great or small;
Be Thou my guide, my guard, my strength,
My wisdom, and my all.”

4. God’s will of purpose was the cause of our conversion. I am a converted or saved man. I have been born again. What is the explanation of this tremendous change? Back of every performance or action there must be a will. Did I will myself into a new man? Did some other man effectually will my second birth? “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (#Joh 1:12,13). Saving faith does not originate with our parents, nor with ourselves, nor with some other man; it is the gift and work of God. “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures” (#Jas 1:18).

GOD’S WILL OF COMMAND

1. God’s preceptive will refers to what He has prescribed as our rule of thought and conduct. The will of God is expressed in all Divine law. In Eden it was God’s will that determined what kind of law would be given to Adam and Eve. At Sinai God did not consult Moses or the children of Israel about what laws they would be under. In a democracy the people make their own laws through chosen representatives who serve in legislative halls. This gives rise to pressure groups and class legislation because men are selfish; they do not love their neighbors as themselves. But in our relation to God we are not dealing with a democracy but with a Theocracy. In God’s will of command we have the sovereignty of authority; in God’s will of purpose we have the sovereignty of power.

2. It is God’s will of command and not His will of purpose that men are responsible to perform. It was His will of purpose that Christ should be crucified, but it was not His will of command. In putting Jesus Christ to death men were fulfilling the purpose of God, but they were not obeying any command of God. There can be no sin in doing what God has commanded. Peter tells us that they put Christ to death with wicked hands; “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain” (#Ac 2:23); therefore, they were not obeying a command of God. What God purposes is the determining factor; what He commands is our duty. It seems easy for men to see this distinction in everything except religion. A man who can see only one side of the truth will say, “If it is God’s will or purpose to save me, He will save me; therefore, I will sit down and do nothing about it.” Now this same man would not dare reason this way about other things. Concerning this year’s crop, God’s will of purpose determines the harvest, but His command is to plow and plant, cultivate and reap. God’s will of purpose determines whether we live or die: “For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that” (#Jas 4:15), but it is His will of command that we regard the laws of health. Nobody quits eating because he believes God’s will of purpose determines whether he lives or dies. God’s will of purpose will determine the outcome of this war, but it would be foolish to sit down and say: “If it is God’s will we will win, if not we will lose; therefore, let us strike and stop mining coal and producing steel.” God’s will of purpose determines the result of our witnessing for Christ. “In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good” (#Ec 11:6). “For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it” (#Isa 55:10,11). It is God’s will of command that we sow beside all waters, to preach the Gospel to every creature, and His will of purpose will take care of the results and make it accomplish what He pleases.

It is God’s will of purpose that determines whether I am saved or not, but it is folly to sit down and say that if I am one of the elect I will be saved; therefore, I need not take any interest in the matter. God’s will of command is to repent and believe, and this is every man’s responsibility. We are commanded “Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall:” (#2Pe 1:10). We are commanded to “Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able” (#Lu 13:24). The man who takes no interest in his soul and has no concern for his salvation; if he persists in this attitude will surely land in the lake of fire; for he that believeth not shall be damned. Much of God’s will of purpose belongs to His secret will, “The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law” (#De 29:29).

C. D. Cole-Definitions of Doctrine-Volume 1

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Definitions of Doctrine-Volume 1-Chapter 4-The Decrees of God

December 26, 2014 1 comment

CHAPTER 4-THE DECREES OF GOD

By the decree of God is meant His purpose or determination with regard to future events. It means that things come to pass according to a Divine purpose rather than by a fixed natural law or blind fate or capricious chance. To deny the decrees or foreordination of God is practically to dethrone Him. It puts Him on the sidelines as an interested but helpless spectator to what is going on.

“A universe without decrees would be as irrational and appalling as would be an express train driving on in the darkness without headlight or engineer, and with no certainty that the next moment it might not plunge into the abyss” (A. J. Gordon).

“Plan and purpose as we may, the plans and purposes will turn only to the final end which God has predetermined” (Henry).

“We give thanks to God for blessings which come to us through the free actions of others, but if God has not purposed these blessings, we owe thanks to others and not to God” (A. H. Strong).

“The Scriptures make mention of the decrees of God in many passages and under a variety of terms. The word ‘decree’ is found in #Ps 2:7: “I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.” In #Eph 3:11 we read of His ‘eternal purpose’: “According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord”; In #Ac 2:23 ‘determinate counsel and foreknowledge’: “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain”; In #Eph 1:9 of his ‘good pleasure’: “Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself.” God’s decrees are called His ‘counsel’ to signify they are consummately wise. “Counsel is mine, and sound wisdom: I am understanding; I have strength” (#Pr 8:14). They are called God’s ‘will’ to show He was under no control, but acted according to His own pleasure. “Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will” (#Eph 1:5). When a man’s will is the rule of his conduct; it is usually capricious and unreasonable; but wisdom is always associated with ‘will’ in the Divine proceedings, and, accordingly, God’s decrees are said to be the ‘counsel of His own will” (A. W. Pink).

“Victor Hugo, recognizing the overruling divine hand, said, ‘Waterloo was God.’ God in the exercise of His infinite wisdom and power, so personally directs and controls the free actions of men as to determine all things in accordance with His eternal purpose” (E. H. Bancroft).

POSITIVE AND PERMISSIVE DECREES

All things were not decreed in the same sense. Sinful acts of men were not decreed in the same sense as were righteous acts. God is the efficient cause of all that is good, while evil is only permitted and directed and overruled for His glory. The sinful acts of men which God decreed permissively will certainly be done, but in doing them men are giving expression to their own inherent depravity. “Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain” (#Ps 76:10). The good deeds of men are decreed efficiently, which means that God works in them “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (#Php 2:13).

“Careless seems the great avenger;
History’s pages but record
One death grapple in the darkness,
Twixt old systems and the Word.
Truth forever on the scaffold;
Wrong forever on the throne;
But that scaffold sways the Future;
And, behind the dim unknown
Standeth God, within the shadow,
Keeping watch above His own.”

—Lowell.

GOD’S SECRET AND REVEALED WILL

The decrees of God belong to His secret will; the commands of God belong to His revealed will. “The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law” (#De 29:29). God’s secret will is the rule of His actions; His revealed will is the rule of our actions. God’s secret will embraces all things; His revealed will embraces all we ought to do. The secret will of God is His program, according to which all things come to pass; His revealed will gives us our program according to which we are to work.

The decrees of God are not addressed to men, and have nothing to do with human responsibility. It may be that God has decreed a poor crop year, but that is no reason for failure to plant and cultivate. God may have decreed a famine, but that does not justify idleness. God may have decreed the death of the writer this year, but that does not keep him from regarding the laws of health and safety. God decreed the death of His Son, but that did not make it the duty of men to crucify Him.

GOD’S DECREES AND FREE AGENCY

God’s decrees determine the free actions of men, that is, the decree makes their actions certain but not a necessity. God’s decrees are not executed by compelling man’s will, therefore they are not inconsistent with man’s freedom. “For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done” (#Ac 4:27,28). God’s decree made the death of Christ certain, but it laid no necessity upon any man. None of the men were compelled to do the foul deed. In crucifying the Lord of glory they were giving free expression to their thoughts and feelings toward Him. They were fulfilling the Scriptures, and executing God’s eternal purpose, without knowing it: “Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (#1Co 2:8). “I speak not of you all: I know whom I have chosen: but that the scripture may be fulfilled, He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me” (#Joh 13:18). “But they cried out, Away with him, away with him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Shall I crucify your King? The chief priests answered, We have no king but Caesar” (#Joh 19:15).

GOD’S DECREES ARE ETERNAL

If God has any purpose concerning the happenings of the universe it must, of necessity, be eternal. To deny this is to suppose some unforeseen event that made it necessary for God to change His purpose. All of God’s purposes were formed in wisdom, and since he has power to execute them, there is no reason for any change. “Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world” (#Ac 15:18). “Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:” (#Isa 46:9,10).

PRACTICAL VALUE OF THE DOCTRINE

It magnifies God in His wisdom, power, and sovereignty. It puts Him on the throne where He should be and is ever and always. There are no crises with God, no perplexing problems to ponder, no forces beyond His control. He moves with majestic step toward the consummation of His eternal purpose in Christ to the praise of His glory.

The believer is humbled at the sight of such a great God, and his soul is bowed in adoring wonder and worship. It will save the believer from undue familiarity with God in prayer and other acts of devotion. Some men pray as if God were on their level; to them He is not the August Being the Scriptures represent Him to be. Much of the poetry and other literature coming out of this war is too irreverent and merely represents God as a sort of comrade in arms. But the Scriptures say that “God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him” (#Ps 89:7).

“This doctrine is one of those advanced teachings of Scripture which requires for its understanding a matured mind and a deep experience. The beginner in the Christian life may not see its value or even its truth, but with increasing years it will become a staff to lean upon. In times of affliction, obloquy, and persecution, the church has found in the decrees of God, and in the prophecies in which these decrees are published, her strong consolation. It is only upon the basis of the decrees that we can believe: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (#Ro 8:28) or pray: “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (#Mt 6:10).” A. H. Strong.

 

C. D. Cole-Definitions of Doctrine-Volume 1

The punishment of the non-elect was not the ultimate end of their creation, but the glory of God

Chapter IV

OF REPROBATION OR PREDESTINATION AS IT RESPECTS THE UNGODLY.

FROM what has been said in the preceding chapter concerning the election of some, it would unavoidably follow, even supposing the Scriptures had been silent about it, that there must be a rejection of others, as every choice does, most evidently and necessarily, imply a refusal, for where there is no leaving out there can be no choice. But beside the testimony of reason, the Divine Word is full and express to our purpose; it frequently, and in terms too clear to be misunderstood, and too strong to be evaded by any who are not proof against the most cogent evidence, attests this tremendous truth, that some are “of old fore-ordained to condemnation.” I shall, in the discussion of this awful subject, follow the method hitherto observed, and throw what I have to say into several distinct positions supported by Scripture.

POSITION 7. -The punishment of the non-elect was not the ultimate end of their creation, but the glory of God. It is frequently objected to us that, according to our view of predestination, “God makes some persons on purpose to damn them,” but this we never advanced; nay, we utterly reject it as equally unworthy of God to do and of a rational being to suppose. The grand, principal end, proposed by the Deity to Himself in His formation of all things, and of mankind in particular, was the manifestation and display of His own glorious attributes. His ultimate scope in the creation of the elect is to evidence and make known by their salvation the unsearchable riches of His power and wisdom, mercy and love, and the creation of the non-elect is for the display of His justice, power, sovereignty, holiness and truth. So that nothing can be more certain than the declaration of the text we have frequently had occasion to cite, “The Lord bath made all things for Himself, even the wicked for the day of evil” (Pro 16:). On one hand, the vessels of wrath are fitted for destruction,” in order that God may “show His wrath and make His power known,” and manifest the greatness of His patience and longsuffering (Rom 9:32). On the other hand, He afore prepared the elect to salvation, that on them He might demonstrate “the riches of His glory and mercy” (ver 23). As, therefore, God Himself is the sole Author and efficient of all His own actions, so is He likewise the supreme end to which they lead and in which they terminate.

Besides, the creation and perdition of the ungodly answer another purpose (though a subordinate one) with regard to the elect themselves, who from the rejection of those learn (1) to admire the riches of the Divine love toward themselves, which planned and has accomplished the work of their salvation, while others, by nature on, on equal level with them, are excluded from a participation of the same benefits. And such a view of the Lord’s distinguishing mercy is (2) a most powerful motive to thankfulness that when they too might justly have been condemned with the world of the non-elect, they were marked out as heirs of the grace of life. (3) Hereby they are taught ardently to love their heavenly Father; (4) to trust in Him assuredly for a continued supply of grace while they are on earth and for the accomplishment of His eternal decree and promise by their glorification in heaven; and (5) to live as becomes those who have received such unspeakable mercies from the hand of their God and Saviour. So Bucer somewhere observes that the punishment of the reprobate “is useful to the elect, inasmuch as it influences them to a greater fear and abhorrence of sin, and to a firmer reliance on the goodness of God.”

Jerome Zanchius-The Doctrine of Absolute Predestination Stated and Asserted-Translated by Augustus Montague Toplady

The passing over of the reprobate was according to the sovereign will and determinating pleasure of God

March 21, 2014 9 comments

Chapter IV

OF REPROBATION OR PREDESTINATION AS IT RESPECTS THE UNGODLY.

FROM what has been said in the preceding chapter concerning the election of some, it would unavoidably follow, even supposing the Scriptures had been silent about it, that there must be a rejection of others, as every choice does, most evidently and necessarily, imply a refusal, for where there is no leaving out there can be no choice. But beside the testimony of reason, the Divine Word is full and express to our purpose; it frequently, and in terms too clear to be misunderstood, and too strong to be evaded by any who are not proof against the most cogent evidence, attests this tremendous truth, that some are “of old fore-ordained to condemnation.” I shall, in the discussion of this awful subject, follow the method hitherto observed, and throw what I have to say into several distinct positions supported by Scripture.

POSITION 4. -As the future faith and good works of the elect were not the cause of their being chosen, so neither were the future sins of the reprobate the cause of their being passed by, but both the choice of the former and the decretive omission of the latter were owing, merely and entirely, to the sovereign will and determinating pleasure of God.

We distinguish between preterition, or bare non-election, which is a purely negative thing, and condemnation, or appointment to punishment: the will of God was the cause of the former, the sins of the non-elect are the reason of the latter. Though God determined to leave, and actually does leave, whom He pleases in the spiritual darkness and death of nature, out of which He is under no obligation to deliver them, yet He does not positively condemn any of these merely because He hath not chosen them, but because they have sinned against Him. (See Rom 1:21-24; Rom 2:8,9; 2Th 2:12.) Their preterition or non-inscription in the book of life is not unjust on the part of God, because out of a world of rebels, equally involved in guilt, God (who might, with out any impeachment of His justice, have passed by all, as He did the reprobate angels) was, most unquestionably, at liberty, if it so pleased Him, to extend the sceptre of His clemency to some and to pitch upon whom He would as the objects of it. Nor was this exemption of some any injury to the non-elect, whose case would have been just as bad as it is, even supposing the others had not been chosen at all. Again, the condemnation of the ungodly (for it is under that character alone that they are the subjects of punishment and were ordained to it) is not unjust, seeing it is for sin and only for sin. None are or will be punished but for their iniquities, and all iniquity is properly meritorious of punishment: where, then, is the supposed unmercifulness, tyranny or injustice of the Divine procedure?

Jerome Zanchius-The Doctrine of Absolute Predestination Stated and Asserted-Translated by Augustus Montague Toplady

Chapter 12-The Will of God

February 26, 2014 4 comments

Chapter 12-The Will of God

 

By the will of God is meant that power inherent in his nature, by which he purposes and chooses any end or object, or determines its existence.

I. That God must have this power is evident.

1. Because it is an attribute of personality. A conscious personal being cannot be without will. Every proof that we have, therefore, that God has personal existence, is evidence that he must have will.

2. Will is also a perfection, and must be found in the being of all perfection.

3. The absolutely independent God, who is controlled by, and dependent upon no person nor thing, must have will, which determines his own acts.

4. It cannot be separated from the possession of the power and wisdom seen in the creation of the universe and in all God’s outward acts, for, without it, the things which wisdom devises and power executes could neither be devised nor executed.

5. It is essential to the sovereignty by which he rules the universe, for will is the element in which sovereignty consists.

6. Without it there could be no existence whatever, not even of God himself.

II. The objects of that will are all beings that exist, and all events that take place.

1. God must will his own existence and nature. These are objects of supreme desire. The infinite excellence of that nature, which furnishes a completely worthy object of his complacent love, cannot be contemplated without a correspondingly infinite desire that it should exist, and should be what it is. The will thus exercised, however, is not causal, as it is towards all other objects. It does not give existence to God, nor make his nature what it is, but on the contrary, it is because God exists and has such a nature, that he must so will.

2. The will of God is also exercised in establishing and maintaining the personal relations revealed to us as existing in the Godhead. It is by the will of the Father that he begets the Son, and by the will of the Father and the Son that the Spirit proceeds. The action of the will here is causal, although these relations are eternal, and are characteristic of the Godhead. They are the results of the divine activity, and, as effects, must find their ultimate cause in the will which moves to action. The fact that because this is divine will and action, there can be no priority of time in the will to the act, does not forbid the causal relation which, because of the eternity of God, must make cause and effect in him co-eternal.

3. Another exhibition of will in the divine being is connected with the mutual love of the divine persons toward each other. This love proceeds from these persons as one form of eternal activity, and is willed by each to the full extent of its infinite exercise.

4. The will of God is more plainly made known, however, to his creatures, in his outward activity in creation. This was called into existence by the word of his power. He willed, and it was done. But for that will, it had not been. Viewed as a whole, or in its minutest part, the universe presents everywhere the impress of its maker’s will. To that will is due not only all material, but also all spiritual existence.

5. The will of God is also manifested in his providential care and government of the universe. In creating it, he has established laws, both mechanical and spiritual, by which it is regulated. Yet he has not withdrawn his own presence and power in its continued guidance and preservation; but is constantly developing, through it and in it, his eternal purpose.

6. In human affairs, however, the will of God is most distinctively exhibited in the work of redemption. Let this be admitted as a true work of God, and, at once, appear the proofs of a far-reaching end, accomplished by frequent acts of interposition and guidance, in which concentres and culminates the entire scope of God’s outward activity. The will of God is seen to be the propelling force of his devising wisdom and executing power in the accomplishment of one great purpose to which is indissolubly linked all his other acts and volitions.

III. A question arises as to this will of God, whether, in its exercise, he acts necessarily or freely.

It has been answered, that his will is exercised both necessarily and freely, according to the object of that will.

1. He is said to will necessarily, himself, his holy nature, and character, and the personal relations in the Godhead. This language may be admitted, if it be borne in mind, that the necessity here declared, is not one of fate, nor of outward compulsion. Whatever is meant by it must be fully consistent with God’s free agency. It is a necessity that arises from his nature, because of which, such must be the will of God, that he wills himself, his existence, and the relations of the persons of the Godhead. Such being the nature of the necessity, it would be better to express it in some way which would indicate its source and prevent misapprehension. The word “naturally” would suffice, were it not for its ambiguity in common use; consequently “essentially” is suggested as expressive of all the necessity, and at the same time of all the freedom which must accompany an act of the will proceeding from the very essence or nature of God.

2. As to all else than himself, God wills freely, whether his will has regard to their existence, or mode of existence, or their actions, or the events which influence or control them. He does his own will, not that of another. He chooses what, and whom he will create, and the times, places and circumstances in which he will place those he creates. He marks out to all his intelligent creatures the paths of their lives. He uses them for his purposes. Though he gives to them also, like freedom of will, yet is their will subordinate to his, and, with their actions, is controlled by it. Yet is this so wisely done, and so truly in accordance with their own natures, as fully to preserve in them consciousness and conviction of the power of contrary choice, and of full responsibility for what they choose and do.

When it is said, however, that God will freely, it is not meant that no influence is exerted upon his will. It is only intended to deny that his will is influenced from without. In all his outward acts, as well as in those within, he is governed by his own nature. That nature, and that will, must always be in unison. As he is infinitely wise, so must his will and action be directed towards wise ends in the use of wise means. His infinite justice forbids that he should will or do anything contrary to the strictest justice. The God of truth must also purpose in accordance with truth and faithfulness. His love, too, which is so gracious a characteristic of God, forbids that he shall will otherwise than benevolently towards all; securing the happiness of the innocent, an desiring that even of the guilty, when it can be made consistent with his justice. The holiness of his nature makes it essential that, as all perfection, in perfect harmony, is involved in that holiness, so also must it be found in every purpose which he forms, as well as in every action by which his purposes are accomplished. When, therefore, God is said to will freely in all matters which are without, it is not meant to deny that he is governed by his nature in all respects, in which that nature ought to affect his will.

But, even in the volition thus formed, God does not will freely, in the sense of willing arbitrarily. He is not indifferent as to what he will do. There is choice, and not arbitrary choice. There are reasons perceived by him, which induce him to choose one end, rather than another, and one set of means to that end, in preference to others. There is in each case a prevailing motive, not necessarily dependent upon its own force or power, but upon the simple fact, that, in the midst of the numerous ends and means known to him through his infinite knowledge, this motive makes this end, and these means best pleasing to him. The very nature of choice in any being of intelligence and free agency makes this the method by which the will forms its decision. There is nothing in the nature of the omniscient and all-purposing God, which forbids that this also should be the method of his volitions. Our conception of God in this respect cannot be incorrect, although, as in all instances in which we attempt to arrive at the perfections of God through those recognized as such in man, this conception may be very inadequate.

IV. The discussion of the preceding question shows how truly man, so far as his will is concerned, had been made in the image of God. It suggests the propriety, therefore, of setting forth more particularly the points of similarity and dissimilarity between the will of man and that of God.

1. Some points of similarity may be mentioned.

(1.) In man, will is the element in which sovereignty exists; so also in God.

(2.) In man, will depends upon the understanding, that is, it is exercised, all other things being equal, in accordance with its dictates; so also in God.

(3.) In man, the will is essentially influenced by his nature; so also in God.

(4.) In man, the will is controlled by the prevailing motive, which is made the strongest, because it is that most pleasing to him; so also in God.

2. But there are also points of dissimilarity between these wills.

(1.) God never wills what he cannot do; man often does.

(2.) In God, the will is never influenced from without; in man this is frequently done.

By the outward control in man is not here meant that physical compulsion by which a man is sometimes said to act against his will; but those legitimate outward influences from persons, circumstances, and events, which lead men freely to choose, in accordance with the laws of the mind.

(3.) In God, the prevailing motive is not only the most pleasing, but, presumably, the best; in man, it is only the most pleasing, not the most reasonable and right, nor the most conducive to happiness; but often the very contrary of these.

(4.) In God there is but one will, or purpose, which comprehends all his ends and means; he does not will, by successive acts, nor in successive moments, but simultaneously, and eternally; man wills successively, one will follows another, and the volition of one man often succeeds the acts, as well as the volitions, of others.

(5.) The will of God is always accomplished; that of man is often defeated.

(6.) God never changes his will, nor perceives any reason for such change; man changes his frequently, from caprice, or because of new information, or because he sees the importance of a better life, or is carried off by passion to one that is worse.

V. Various distinctions as to the will of God have been pointed out, some of which are correct, or at least admissible, and others incorrect, and objectionable.

The following list is given by Turretine in the fifteenth and sixteenth questions of his third book. The statements made are in the main taken from his discussion.

1. The correct distinctions.

(1.) The first distinction is between the decretive and preceptive will of God.

By the decretive will is meant that will of God by which he purposes or decrees, whatever shall come to pass, whether he will to accomplish it himself effectively, or causatively, or to permit it to occur through the unrestrained agency or will of his creatures. In either case, however, he has determined, purposed, or decreed, either to bring it to pass, or to cause, or to permit it to be brought to pass.

By the preceptive will is meant that which he has prescribed to be done by others. Such are the laws under which he places his creatures, or the duties which he enjoins upon them. It is the rule of duty.

The decretive will must always be fulfilled; the preceptive may be disobeyed, and therefore remain unfulfilled.

(2.) Nearly corresponding to this first distinction is another into the will of eudokia, and that of euarestia. As the former was taken from two Latin, so this is from two Greek words, and these Greek words are scriptural. The former division was made in connection with purpose to do; this in connection with pleasure in doing, or desire to do, or to see done. But the two correspond in the fact that the will of eudokia, like that of decree, comprises what shall certainly be accomplished, and that of euarestia like that of precept embraces simply what it pleases God that his creatures shall do.

It must not be supposed, however, that, because of the meaning eudokia, (well pleasing,) the decretive will, expressed by this word, is confined to those volitions of God, in which the happiness and blessing of man are involved. It was with reference both to evil to some, and blessing to others, that Christ used it when he said, “Yea Father for so it was well pleasing in thy sight.” Matt. 11:26. The decretive will of God, whatever its effect upon his creatures, is “well pleasing” to God.

(3.) A third distinction is between the will of the signum and that of the beneplacitum.

By the beneplacitum is intended, a will of God which is confined to himself, until he makes it known by some revelation, or by the event itself. Any will thus made known becomes the signum. Manifestly these may differ in several respects.

If the will of the beneplacitum be confined, as it should be, to the decretive will of God, it will be broader, and narrower, than that of the signum; broader, because at no time has the whole decretive will of God been revealed; and narrower, because the will of the signum must extend, also, to the preceptive will of God, which God prescribes as duty, and yet does not determine shall be performed. In some cases, God even gives commands, which are, for the time, a rule of duty, and, therefore, a part of his preceptive will, and thus also of this will of signum, obedience to which he actually intends to prevent. Thus he ordered Abraham by the will of signum to sacrifice Isaac, which was thus made to his servant a rule of duty, yet, by the will of the beneplacitum, he not only did not purpose the sacrifice, but intended to interpose to prevent it.

(4.) A fourth distinction is between the secret and the revealed will of God. Turretine says, “The former of these is commonly referred to the will of decree, which for the most part is hidden in God; the latter to the will of the precept, which is revealed, and disclosed in the Law and the Gospel. Its basis is sought in Deut. 29:29: ‘The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but the things that are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.’ The former is called a great deep and an unsearchable abyss. Ps. 36:6; Rom. 11:33, 34. The latter is accessible to all, nor is it far from us. Deut. 30:14; Rom. 10:8. That has for its object all those things which God will either to effect, or permit, and which, especially, he wishes to do concerning each man, and which are, therefore, absolute and fixed without exception. The latter refers to those things which belong to our duty, and which are conditionally set forth. The former is always done, the latter is often violated.”

2. The incorrect distinctions:

(1.) That of antecedent and consequent volitions.

By this is not meant one will, or decree, which precedes another in its logical order in the divine mind, or in its execution by God, as that of the creation of man, before that of his redemption; nor one will of the precept, which consists in the prescribed duty, followed by another which sets forth the consequent rewards and punishments. Were this so, the distinction would be objectionable only because of its inaccuracy in transferring to God such methods of our action, or logical conception, as belong to that succession in our acts and will which cannot exist in God. It would be only the same kind of misstatement, of which orthodox theologians are guilty, when under the form of sublapsarianism, or supralapsarianism, they attempt to set forth the order of God’s decrees. In one form, in which this distinction is incorrectly made, it is claimed that a consequent will in God arises after he sees the results of one which is previous, or antecedent; another that he forms a particular volition, especially affecting an individual man, following upon a general volition, or disposition, to seek the happiness of his creatures, or to prescribe a course by which that happiness may be secured.

To the distinction of antecedent, and consequent volitions, in these forms, there are many objections.

(a.) It admits succession in the decrees of God, and makes them many, when they are but one.

(b.) It makes them temporal, when they are eternal.

(c.) Turretine ably argues, that thus contrary wills would exist in God, who would thus be at one and the same time willing, and not willing, the same event.

(d.) He also justly states, that the antecedent will thus spoken of, could be only a mere wishing (velleitas), and not a will (voluntas.)

(e.) He suggests that thus the independence of God would be taken away, since he must wait upon man to will, and act, before he could will.

(2.) A second incorrect distinction is between the efficacious and inefficacious will of God.

This distinction would also be admissible, if by the efficacious will were meant that of the decree, and by the inefficacious, that of the precept. But, as introduced, both terms are applied to the will of the decree. Turretine objects to the application, in the first place, “because the scripture testifies, that the purpose of God is immutable, and his will cannot be resisted. Isa. 46:10; Rom. 9:19; but. if it cannot be resisted, he will surely perfect that which he intends; secondly, inefficacious will cannot be attributed to God, unless he is accused either of ignorance, because he knew not that the event would not occur, or of impotence, because he could not accomplish the result he purposed; finally, the same reasons which prove that antecedent and consequent will are not allowable, are also proofs against efficacious and inefficacious.”

(3.) The third of the incorrect distinctions is that of absolute and conditional.

If, by the conditional will, were meant the conditions appended to the preceptive will of God, in the promises and threats given as inducements to duty, it would not be objected to. But the object of those who present it, is to apply it to the decretive will, and to suppose that God, in his purposes, determines, on certain conditions, that he will do a certain act, which he will not do if those conditions fail. Whether these conditions shall fail, or not, is supposed to be unknown to God, or, if known, yet at least so far undetermined, that he has formed no purpose whether or not to permit, or to accomplish them. The purposes of God, thus formed, are not, therefore, absolute decrees, as are all those concerning what shall actually and absolutely take place, but are only conditional ones, based upon some antecedent condition, which must first occur.

This distinction is introduced, chiefly, to show how God can make an absolute decree about the salvation of mankind in general, and, yet, not about that of any one man in particular. Absolutely he decrees the salvation in general of all who believe. But the salvation of each one is decreed, only upon the condition that he believes. Whether that faith will be exercised by any one, is not determined by God. Nor so far as involved in any purpose made by him is it even known to God.

Such is the theory and purpose of this distinction. The objections presented against the other two of these incorrect distinctions are also justly made against it.

 

Rev. James Petigru Boyce, D. D., LL. D.,–Abstract of Systematic Theology–First published in 1887