Book Review: Does God Desire All to Be Saved – #3

In the 2nd chapter of Piper’s booklet, he sets out to give examples of God’s two wills. His goal is to prove that God has one will that desires all to be saved, but a second will that acts to only save some.

We must keep in mind that this premise of two will is necessary to uphold Calvinism and without it, the system is significantly weakened.

In the previous article in this series we noted different terms, but the one definition for these two wills:

  • Sovereign will and moral will
  • Efficient will and permissive will (not used in the same sense as I used it above)
  • Secret will and revealed will
  • Will of decree and will of command
  • Decretive will and preceptive will
  • Voluntas signi (will of sign) and voluntas beneplaciti (will of good pleasure)

The difference between these two wills is that one is actionable and results in the salvation of a soul, the other desires something, but takes no action to accomplish it.

John Piper uses several illustrations of God’s will for something to occur, while at the same time disapproving of it. Or, that God wills for something not to happen, but it happens anyway. Here is a summary of Piper’s examples:

Example 1: The Death of Christ – The betrayal was sin and Satan was the instrument, but it was “part of God’s ordained plan.”

The sticking point for me is this, could the instruments of Jesus betrayal have done anything other than betray Jesus?

Example 2: The War Against the Lamb – The rebellion of the world leaders against Jesus in the end times comes about, in this context, by God putting it in their hearts to conspire against Him.

However, what must be asked is this, was there ever a time when those individual leaders could have ever done anything different? Or was their course always sent on conspiracy and rebellion?

Example 3: The Hardening Work of God

Piper writes,

Another evidence that demonstrates God’s willing (in one sense) a state of affairs that he disapproves (in another sense) is the testimony of Scripture that God wills to harden some men’s hearts so that they become obstinate in sinful behavior that he disapproves.

From the Calvinist’s standpoint, the individual has always been rebellious, and God sovereignly hardens their heart to cause them to sin but does so without ever becoming culpable for that sin.

If that sounds contradictory or confusion then this will not help. Elsewhere in the same chapter, Piper phrases it more simply,

Therefore, we know that God wills in one sense what he does not will in another sense.

Example 4: God’s Right to Restrain Evil and His Will Not To

Piper argues 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.”

One specific example given is from Genesis 20:6 where God hinders Abimelech from sinning with Sarah, Abraham’s wife. The couple had lied about their relationship and so the ruler could have taken her for his wife and in so doing be guilty of adultery. But God hinders him.

The example given in conjunction is that of the sin of the sons of Eli. In 1 Samuel 2:22-25 the sons disobey their father and consequently will face judgment and death. The reason? “they hearkened not unto the voice of their father, because the LORD would slay them.”

The “would” there is in the sense of will, or desire. However, once more, was the hardening of their hearts an inevitable event from the day of their conception, or was there ever a possibility that they could do otherwise?

So, do we have contradictory wills of God? One something He wishes but will not affect, and another He wills and will enforce? Do we have God as the architect of sin without becoming the one responsible or accountable for that sin?

I believe God is sovereignly powerful enough to ordain for His purposes to be fulfilled without over-ruling the free will of man. A.W.Tozer has a powerful explanation of this,

God sovereignly decreed that man should be free to exercise moral choice, and man from the beginning has fulfilled that decree by making his choice between good and evil. When he chooses to do evil, he does not thereby countervail the sovereign will of God but fulfills it, inasmuch as the eternal decree decided not which choice the man should make but that he should be free to make it. If in His absolute freedom God has willed to give man limited freedom, who is there to stay His hand or say, ‘What doest thou?’ Man’s will is free because God is sovereign. A God less than sovereign could not bestow moral freedom upon His creatures. He would be afraid to do so.

A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy: The Attributes of God

What of the hardening of man’s heart that results in sin (Pharoah, Eli’s sons, etc)? In each case, it is demonstrable that they first sinned and hardened their own hearts before becoming hardened by God. They made sinful choices, freely, which led to them being instruments to fulfill God’s overarching purpose.

This approach accomplishes several goals:

  1. It removes God from being responsible for any sin, either as an active participant or only the architect of it.
  2. It provides consistency between God’s sovereignty and man’s free will.
  3. It removes the necessity to create two wills to explain away a contrived contradiction.

Once some of the foundation blocks of Calvinism are removed, not because we ignore Scripture but ignore the presuppositions, then the necessity to create and then defend these perceived two wills is removed.

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