THE WILL OF GOD
The will of God is used here to embrace the following: (1) God's faculty of self-determination and choice. (2) The inherent preference of God. (3) The purpose and plan of God.
I. QUALITIES OF GOD'S WILL
Freedom of will, whether it be in God, angels, or men, means that the will is not constrained by anything outside the nature of the being who possesses it. But it does not mean that the will can act independent of or contrary to the character of that being. In the operation of the will we have simply a moral being preferring, choosing, and determining courses of action in view of motives. Motives influence, but do not constrain the will. The relative strength of motives is determined by character. The will is never subject to caprice or arbitrariness.
We speak of some men as lacking will-power. And by this we mean that they lack the power to will that which they should will. This results from the perversity of man's character or nature through sin. But there is no lack of power with God to will that which He should will. His character is perfectly holy. Consequently God always wills that which is perfectly holy, just, and good.
The immutability of God's will has been touched upon in the preceding chapter. It is mentioned here for the sake of emphasis. God's will is but the expression of His immutable nature and character, and thus it is necessarily immutable. God's will is incapable of the slightest wavering, vacillation, or variation. It must ever retain the perfection and the holiness that it possessed in eternity. Whatever God willed in eternity to do or to bring to pass, He must now and evermore will to do and to bring to pass. Thus there has not and there will not be any change in His purpose or plan.
1. GOD'S WILL OF PURPOSE.
God has purposed or decreed all things that have come to pass and all things that shall ever come to pass. See Psa. 135:6; Isa. 46:10; Dan. 4:35; Acts 2:23; 4:27- 28; 13:48; Rom. 8:29,30; 9:15-18; Eph. 1:11. These passages show God to be an absolute sovereign in directing all the affairs of this world and in the distribution of saving grace. His will of purpose includes evil as well as good, sin as well as righteousness; and it is always accomplished perfectly. But the following subdivisions of God's will of purpose are necessary.
(1) Gods Positive Purpose.
God is the active, positive cause of all good. Everything good is the result of the efficient working of Gods power, either directly or through His creatures. It is to this subdivision of God's will of purpose that Phil. 2:13 applies, which tells us: "It is God that worketh in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure."
(2) God's Permissive Purpose.
God is not the cause of evil; but for just, holy, and wise reasons, known fully to Himself only, He has decreed to permit such evil as comes to pass and to overrule it for His own glory. It is to God's permissive will that the Scripture refers when it says: "Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee; the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain" (Psa. 76:10). This Scripture points out that God restrains men from doing more sin that He is pleased to overrule for His glory. Therefore He permits them to commit such sins as they do commit. He could keep men from all sin as easily as He stops them at the appointed place. We can give no reason why God permits sin that will satisfy the carnal mind; but the fact that He does so is abundantly clear. And, since God always does right, we know that it is right for Him to permit such sin as comes to pass.
In Acts 2:23 and 4:27,28 we have a clear statement that the crucifixion of Christ was a part of the purposive or decretive will of God. But we know that God did not efficiently cause the crucifiers to do what they did. Such would make God responsible for the killing of Christ. God merely withheld His restraining power and permitted the crucifiers to proceed according to their own evil desires. This is all God has to do to bring about the commission of any sin He is pleased to overrule for His glory. Man will commit any sin that God will permit him to commit.
The careful student will note that it is implied in the foregoing discussion that God's permission of sin is not a bare or necessary permission, such as Arminians are willing to admit and such as is exemplified in a man's permission of that which he cannot prevent; but is a sovereign, providential, willing, and purposeful permission of that which God has full power to prevent had He so willed. With regard to Adam's sin, John Gill aptly remarks: "There was a concourse of divine providence attending this action, and influencing it as an action, without which it could never have been performed; as divine providence supports every wicked man in his being throughout the whole course of his vicious life, [determining the circumstances and occasions of all his acts], and so while he is sinning; the same providence upheld [and surrounded] Adam in his being, whilst he was eating of the forbidden fruit; otherwise as Eve could not have stretched out her hand and taken the fruit of the tree and eaten it, so neither could Adam have put forth his hand and taken it of her. The influences of divine providence concur with every action, be it what it may, as an action, since all live, and move, and have their being in God; every action, as an action, is from God; BUT THE OBLIQUITY, IRREGULARITY, AND SINFULNESS OF THE ACTION, IS FROM THE CREATURE: WHEREFORE GOD IS NOT THE AUTHOR OF ANY SIN; AS HE IS NOT THE AUTHOR OF SIN IN ANY MAN, NOTWITHSTANDING THE CONCOURSE OF HIS PROVIDENCE WITH EVERY ACTION OF HIS, AS AN ACTION..." (Body of Divinity, p. 319).
Because Calvinists have recognized the full truth as unmistakably set forth in those Scriptures that ascribe evil to God (see Ex. 7:3,4; 1 Sam. 18:10; 2 Sam. 24:1, compared with 1 Chron. 21:1; John 12:40; Acts 4:27, 28; Rom. 9:18), and, therefore, have been unwilling to divorce God's permission of sin from His decrees; Arminians have accused them of making God the author of sin. But every representative Calvinist that has ever lived has repudiated this charge and, like John Gill, has given logical ground for that repudiation. This includes Calvin himself. A careful perusal of his works will show indisputably that he taught nothing more with regard to God's relation to sin than is taught herein.
2. GOD'S WILL OF APPROBATION.
This phase of God's will has to do with God's attitude toward things considered separately and apart from their relation to His eternal purpose. When thus considered, sin is never pleasing to God. God never approves sin as a thing within itself; nevertheless He has decreed by the most wise and holy design to allow men to use the powers He gives them to commit sin. God always approves righteousness, but in His perfect plan He has not found it suitable to bring all men to righteousness. Herein lies both the distinction and the harmony between God's will of purpose and His will of approbation.* God's will of purpose embraces both evil and good, while His will of approbation includes only that which is good within itself. Another difference between these two phases of God's will lies in the fact that His will of purpose is always accomplished in its fullness, while His
*Theologians have used various names for this second phase of God's will, such as revealed will, preceptive will, directive will, will of command, will of desire, and will of pleasure. The author has adopted the designation herein employed as the one that seems to him most fitting and comprehensive.
will of approbation is, at best, accomplished only very imperfectly on earth.
Let no one suppose that it is here meant that God would have some things come to pass that He cannot bring to pass; or that He would prevent the coming to pass of some things that He cannot prevent. God always accomplishes what He wants to accomplish, but, in doing this, He uses that which within itself is not a thing that is pleasing to Him. Just as a parent, taking pleasure in the proper training of a child, often chastens the child, notwithstanding the fact that the chastening of itself affords the parent no pleasure.
God's pleasure in things as a whole is always carried out. "Our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he pleased" (Psa. 115:3), "Whatsoever Jehovah pleased, that hath he done, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps" (Psa. 135:6). "Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things are not yet done; saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure" (Isa. 46:10).
It is on the basis of the phase of God's will now under consideration that Ezek. 33:11 is to be explained and understood.*
However, the death here mentioned is not spiritual death, but physical death in the Babylonian siege. But the relation of the declaration to the will of God is the same. In itself considered, the perishing of the Israelites in the Babylonian siege vas not a pleasing thing to God; but, considered in connection with things as a whole, God had decreed to permit the death of many of them.
Much might be said as to why God permits that which He does not approve, but this fact can never be explained to the satisfaction of the finite mind. It was in the face of this fact that Paul arose to great heights in exclaiming: "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counselor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be
*But it is not on the basis of this phase of God's will that we are to understand 2 Pet. 3:9 and 1 Tim 2:4. See treatment of these two passages in chapter on atonement.
recompensed to him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen (Rom. 11:33-36). Therefore we do not attempt to explain this mystery lest we seem to try to be wise above that which is written or to darken counsel by words to no profit.
God's will of approbation is revealed in two ways, viz., through His Word, the Bible, and through the Holy Spirit. It is revealed through His Word as to broad principles and basic truths. It is revealed through the Holy Spirit as to the application of these principles and truths to the circumstances and details of every-day life, and as to the calling, capacity, and plan in which God would have each individual serve him.
It is God's will of approbation, as revealed in His Word, that fixes man's responsibility. This is very forcefully shown in Deut. 29:29, which reads: "The secret things belong unto Jehovah our God; but the things that are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law." "The secret things" are those things embraced in God's will of purpose or decree. "The things that are revealed" are those things that are embraced in God's will of approbation as revealed in His Word.