THE TWO WILLS OF GOD – DIVINE ELECTION AND GOD’S DESIRE FOR ALL TO BE SAVED

Affirming the will of God to save all, while also affirming the unconditional election of some, implies that there are at least “two wills” in God. In spite of criticisms (mainly from Armenians) the distinction stands, because it is inescapable in the Scriptures.

ILLUSTRATION OF THE TWO WILLS OF GOD

THE DEAD OF CHRIST

The betrayal of Jesus by Judas was a morally evil act inspired immediately by Satan (Luke 22:3). Yet in Acts 2:23 Luke says, “This Jesus [was] delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.” There is a sense in which God willed the delivering up of his Son, even though the act was sin. Luke expresses his understanding of the sovereignty of God by recording the prayer of the Jerusalem saints:
Truly in this city there were gathered together against thy holy servant Jesus, whom thou didst anoint both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel to do “whatever thy hand and thy plan had predestined to take place.”

The appalling death of Christ was the will and work of God the Father. Isaiah wrote, “We esteemed him stricken, smitten by God . . . It was the will of the LORD to bruise him; he has put him to grief” (Isaiah 53:4,10). Also refer to Hebrews 2:10. But, it was not the “will of God” that Judas and Pilate and Herod and the Gentile soldiers and the Jewish crowds disobey the moral law of God by sinning in delivering Jesus up to be crucified.

THE HARDENING WORK OF GOD

Another example is that God wills to harden some men’s hearts so that they become obstinate in sinful behaviour, which God disapproves.

In Exodus 8:1 the Lord says to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD, “Let my people go, that they may serve me.”‘” In other words it was God will that Pharaoh would have let the Israelites go. Nevertheless, in Exodus 4:21 God said to Moses, “… I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.”

This illustrates why theologians talk about the “WILL OF COMMAND” (“Let my people go!”) and the “WILL OF DECREE” (“God hardened Pharaoh’s heart”).
In view of these illustrations, it is difficult to imagine that the “will of God” is always only to be thought in terms of loving desire, without addressing God’s effective purpose of judgment as well.

Paul pictures this divine hardening as part of an overarching plan that will involve salvation for Jew and Gentile. In Romans 11:25-26 he says to his Gentile readers, “Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand this mystery, brethren: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles come in, and so all Israel will be saved.” God holds out his hands to a rebellious people (Romans 10:21), but ordains a hardening that consigns them for a time to disobedience.

GOD’S RIGHT AND POWER TO RESTRAIN EVIL AND HIS WILL NOT TO

Another line of Biblical evidence that God sometimes wills to bring about what he disapproves is his choosing to use or not to use his right to restrain evil in the human heart.

An illustration of this divine right is given in Genesis 20. Abraham says to king Abimelech that Sarah is his sister. So Abimelech takes her as part of his harem. But God is displeased and warns him in a dream that she is married to Abraham. Abimelech protests to God that he had taken her in his integrity. And God says (in verse 6), “Yes, I know that in the integrity of your heart you have done this, and I also kept you from sinning against me; therefore I did not let you touch her.” What is apparent here is that God has the right and the power to restrain the sins of secular rulers. When he does, it is his will to do it. And when he does not, it is his will not to.

Psalm 33:10-11says, “The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nought; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the LORD stands for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations.” Sometimes God frustrates the will of rulers by making their plans fail. Sometimes he does so by influencing their hearts the way he did Abimelech, without them even knowing it.

An illustration of God’s choosing not to use his right to restrain evil is found in Romans 1:24-28. Three times Paul says that God hands people over to sink further into corruption. Verse 24: “God handed them over to the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves.” God has the right and the power to restrain this evil the way he did for Abimelech. But part of God’s punishment on evil is sometimes His willingness that evil increase.

HOW EXTENSIVE IS THE SOVEREIGN WILL OF GOD?

Behind this complex relationship of two wills in God is the foundational biblical premise that God is indeed sovereign.
There are passages that ascribe to God the final control over all calamities and disasters wrought by nature or by man. Amos 3:6, “Does evil befall a city, unless the LORD has done it? Isaiah 45:7, “I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make peace and create woe, I am the LORD, who do all these things.” Lamentations 3:37-38, “Who has commanded and it came to pass, unless the Lord has ordained it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and evil come?”

“Let those who suffer according to God’s will do right and entrust their souls to a faithful Creator” (4:19). In this context, the suffering comes from hostile people and therefore cannot come without sin. On taking leave of the saints in Ephesus Paul said, “I will return to you if God wills,” (Acts 18:21). To the Corinthians he wrote, “I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills” (1 Corinthians 4:19). And again, “I do not want to see you now just in passing; I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits” (1 Corinthians 16:7).

This is remarkable since it is hard to imagine one even thinking that God might not permit such a thing unless one had a remarkably high view of the sovereign prerogatives of God.

James also said, “Tomorrow we will do such and such . . . you ought to say, `If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that'” (James 4:15).
Jesus also said in Matthew 10:29, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.” We also read:

“Our God is in the heavens; he does whatever he pleases” (Psalm 115:3).
This means that the distinction between terms like “will of decree” and “will of command” or “sovereign will” and “moral will” is not an artificial distinction demanded by Calvinistic theology. The terms are an effort to describe the whole of biblical revelation. They are an effort to say Yes to all of the Bible and not silence any of it. They are a way to say Yes to the universal, saving will of 1 Timothy 2:4 and Yes to the individual unconditional election of Romans 9:6-23.

HOW DOES THE TWO WILLS OF GOD FIT TOGETHER? WHAT ABOUT FREE WILL?

The most important thing to start with is to affirm is the fact that “God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself does not tempt anyone” (James 1:13). It implies no contradiction to suppose that an act may be an evil act, and yet that it is a good thing that such an act should come to pass. As for instance, it might be an evil thing to crucify Christ, but yet it was a good thing that the crucifying of Christ came to pass.

With reference to 1 Timothy 2:4, God wills for all to be saved. But then God is committed to something even more valuable than saving all. The answer given by Calvinists is that the greater value is the manifestation of the full range of God’s glory in wrath and mercy (Romans 9:22-23) and the humbling of man so that he enjoys giving all credit to God for his salvation (1 Corinthians 1:29).

In 1 Timothy 2:4 there is no mention of free will. If all we had was this text we could only guess what restrains God from saving all. The assumption is that if God wills in one sense for all to be saved, then he cannot in another sense will that only some be saved.

The divine mind is such that God has the capacity to look at the world through two lenses. When God looks at a painful or wicked event through his narrow lens, he sees the tragedy or the sin for what it is in itself and he is angered and grieved. “I do not delight in the death of anyone, says the Lord God” (Ezekiel 18:32). But when God looks at a painful or wicked event through his wide-angle lens, he sees the tragedy or the sin in relation to everything leading up to it and everything flowing out from it. He sees it in all the connections and effects that form a pattern or mosaic stretching into eternity. This mosaic, with all its (good and evil) parts he does delight in (Psalm 115:3).

God’s emotional life is infinitely complex beyond our ability to fully comprehend. For example, who can comprehend that God is angry at the sin of the world every day (Psalm 7:11), and yet every day, every moment, he is rejoicing with tremendous joy because somewhere in the world a sinner is repenting (Luke 15:7,10,23)? All we have to go on here is what he has chosen to tell us in the Bible. And what he has told us is that there is a sense in which he does not experience pleasure in the judgment of the wicked, and there is a sense in which he does.

As God took counsel with Himself and deemed it wise and good to elect unconditionally some to salvation and not others, one may legitimately ask whether the offer of salvation to all is genuine.
The corresponding point in the case of divine election is that the absence of volition in God to save does not necessarily imply the absence of compassion. God’s infinite wisdom regulates his whole will and guides and harmonizes (not suppresses) all its active principles.
In other words, God has a real and deep compassion for perishing sinners. Jeremiah points to this reality in God’s heart. In Lamentations 3:32-33 he speaks of the judgment that God has brought upon Jerusalem: “Though he causes grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve the sons of men.” Jeremiah was trying, as we are, to come to terms with the way a sovereign God wills two different things, affliction and compassion.

In God’s great and mysterious heart there are kinds of longings and desires that are real which tell us something true about His character. Yet not all of these longings govern God’s actions. He is governed by the depth of his wisdom expressed through a plan that no ordinary human deliberation would ever conceive (Romans 11:33-36; 1 Corinthians 2:9). There are holy and just reasons for why the affections of God’s heart have the nature and intensity and proportion that they do.

As per John 3:16 and 1 Timothy 2:4 God loves the world with a deep compassion that desires the salvation of all men. Yet God has chosen from before the foundation of the world whom he will save from sin. Since not all people are saved we need to believe that God’s will to save all people is “restrained” by his commitment to the glorification of His sovereign grace (Ephesians 1:6,12,14; Romans 9:22-23).

There is nothing in the Bible teaching that human beings have the ultimate power of self-determination.
To conclude, God’s will to save all people is “restrained” by His supreme commitment to uphold and display the full range of his glory through the sovereign demonstration of his wrath and mercy for the enjoyment of his elect and believing people from every tribe and tongue and nation.
(Main source: John Piper / DesiringGod)

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