Two Wills of God
Think of David on the roof of his palace looking down and seeing beautiful Bathsheba washing. What was he to do? What was God’s will for him? Surely the Bible makes it plain. The Seventh Commandment states clearly: "Thou shalt not commit adultery". God’s revealed will tells him what God wants him to do. God hates sin and desires His people to obey His commandments. But is there not another will in God? What about predestination and the decrees of God? God foreordains whatsoever comes to pass. His plan includes everything and nothing is left to chance. God "worketh all things after the counsel of his own will" (Eph.1 :11). He is not the author of sin and yet, since everything is included in His decrees, sin must be there too. This means that in a certain sense it was God’s will that David commit adultery. Nothing can happen but what God wills and David did commit adultery. The implication of this is that there are two "wills" in God.
Secret and revealed will
Traditionally this is explained as the secret and revealed will of God. The Confession of Faith in its first paragraph speaks of God in the Scriptures revealing "His will unto His church" and Shorter Catechism Q.39: "The duty which God requireth of man, is obedience to His revealed will". The Confession also states that God did "by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass" and reference is made to the "secret counsel and good pleasure of His will" by which He elects men and women to salvation.
Two “wills" – impossible?
Surely it is impossible to have two "wills" in one individual. From the case of David we see that the two "wills" in God appear to be contradictory. The secret will determines that David should sin while the revealed will tells him that he must not sin. Of course there is no conflict in the mind of God. We find it impossible to understand how God can will that an individual sin and yet not be the author of that sin. What we often forget is that God’s mind is infinitely great. We are grasshoppers in comparison to the One who sits on the circle of the earth. We cannot comprehend God fully and even after an eternity of studying Him He will still be mysterious to us.
In the ancient church there were heretics called Monophysites. They taught that there was only one nature in Christ. Closely connected with this was the heresy of the Monothelites. They taught that there was only one will in Christ. Both these heresies were condemned by the Council of Chalcedon in 451 which proclaimed that Christ was "truly God and truly man", two natures in one person, "unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly and inseparably" linked together. As a man He willed certain things which He did not will as God. In Gethsemane He prayed, "Not my will but thine be done". By submitting His human will to the divine will He did not sin but was obedient unto death. Thus we can see from the case of Christ how it is possible for two wills, here a human and a divine, to exist in one person.
In the case of God it is best to see the two "wills" as two aspects of the one will of God. His determining will cannot be thwarted. However the Scriptures reveal to us the things in which He takes particular pleasure and what is consistent with His own nature. He delights in men and women obeying His law and living holy lives. There is joy in the presence of the angels, i.e. joy in God, over sinners repenting. He has more pleasure in showing mercy than in destroying. Judgment is His strange work. He loves to save. His revealed will tells us what we ought to be like, what God requires, and what we must do to please Him. God, of course, is not schizophrenic. He is one, and the two "wills" referred to are not in conflict but find perfect expression in the unity of God. The classical theologian Turretin makes it crystal clear: ‘Now in calling, God indeed shows that He wills the salvation of the called by the will of precept and good pleasure, but not by the will of decree. For calling shows what God wills man should do, but not what He Himself had decreed to do. It teaches what is pleasing and acceptable to God and in accordance with His own nature (namely, that the called should come to Him); but not what He himself has determined to do concerning man’.
"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 his law" (Deut.29:29). Our primary responsibility is with the revealed will of God. In it our duty is set before us. Let us study the Bible and live accordingly. We do not know who the elect are. Some people try to live their lives in the light of God’s secret will but this leads to all kinds of problems. Some are afraid to preach the Gospel too warmly and are inhibited in proclaiming the "good news" of the salvation wrought by Christ in case the people they are preaching to are not in the elect.
In my youth I had a problem with the Gospel. I heard ministers preaching Christ but what right had I to believe in Him? Perhaps I was not in the elect, or maybe Christ had not died for me. How could I trust in Christ for my own salvation when perhaps the secret will of God was that I was not meant to be saved? It was wrong of me to try to live by the secret will of God. I have heard others who argue, "If I am in the elect I will be saved and if I am not I won’t". No one will be saved who sleeps on that pillow. The Gospel tells us to repent and believe that we may be saved. Sovereign God says "Believe in Christ" and every sinner ought to obey. All sinners who seek, will find. Of course no sinner will seek until the Holy Spirit stirs him up to do it. Our duty however is to plead with every unbeliever to turn from their wicked ways and flee to Christ.
Speaking of two "wills" in God can be confusing and misinterpreted. However there is Scriptural truth here which it is essential to maintain. We do not believe that God’s secret purpose is frustrated. However man often breaks God’s revealed will. We must live according to God’s revealed will and proclaim God as He delights to display Himself in the Bible – loving, gracious and merciful. He pleads with sinners and rejoices in their repentance. He says, "All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people" (Rom.1O:21). Stephen rebuked the Jews, "Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost" (Acts 7:51). There is clearly revealed in Scripture a pleading, loving, gracious will of God, a striving of the Spirit, which can be opposed just as there is a secret planned will of God which nothing can oppose. Pray for all, "For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth" (l Tim.2:1-4). Though our God is holy and just, He states: "As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live" (Ezek.33:1 1). As Kennedy, Dingwall put it, God’s ‘love, having being expressed as love to sinners, each one who hears the Gospel may be assured that God will act according to his name towards every sinner who comes to him’.
Editorial Free Church Witness September 2004, with permission.
Preaching to Sinners June 21, 2019
We shall always, I trust, as a church, cultivate an anxious desire for the conversion of all who come within our gates, yea, and of all who dwell around us. Never, I hope, will you wish the pastor to preach so that you shall be fed, careless as to whether sinners are saved or not; […]
We Pray — But Do We Really? June 18, 2019
Never in the history of the church has so much been said to so many with so little effect! We have pronouncements by church leaders and church bodies, elaborate reunion schemes, commissions on this, that and the next, and endless discussion groups. The torrent of words flows on and, for the most part, over the […]