The assignment in this chapter is not to defend the doctrine that God chooses unconditionally whom he will save. I have tried to do that elsewhere and others do it in this book. Nevertheless I will try to make a credible case that while the Arminian pillar texts may indeed be pillars for universal love, nevertheless they are not weapons against unconditional election. If I succeed then there will be an indirect confirmation for the thesis of this book. In fact I think Arminians have erred in trying to take pillars of universal love and make them into weapons against electing grace.
It only takes one example to subvert this notion of God’s universal love. Universal means without qualification and in every instance God loves each and every individual. Yet in Romans 9 we read,
And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), it was said to her, “The older shall serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.”
God did not love Esau therefore God’s love cannot be referred to as Universal. Esau, being reprobate, there never was a time when God loved Esau. Why should we think that God’s disposition towards all reprobate is any different?
I think we should realize that the teaching of a Universal love which Arminians espouse serves in their system to support their doctrine of a hypothetically universal atonement. In the Arminian system because God universally loves each and every individual He sent Christ to die for each and every individual. Can Reformed people take out of the Arminian system their doctrine of Universal love and plug it into the Reformed system of limited Atonement without importing confusion?
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, or two ways of willing. It implies that God decrees one state of affairs while also willing and teaching that a different state of affairs should come to pass. This distinction in the way God wills has been expressed in various ways throughout the centuries. It is not a new contrivance. For example, theologians have spoken of sovereign will and moral will, efficient will and permissive will, 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), etc.
First, I know of nowhere in Scripture that affirms God’s will to save all. We must keep in mind that this is God we are talking about. If God willed to save each and every individual then each and every individual would be saved since one of the perks of being God is getting whatever you will.
Second, it would be less confusing to say that God’s has eternal decrees that are unknown to man while at the same time God has revealed, by way of command, in His Law Word, what the creature is responsible for, which is to repent and look savingly to Christ. Now in God’s Law-Word we are told to be God’s heralds throughout the world but we are not told to say that “God wills to save all.”
When it comes to two wills in God what we have is a God that decrees one state of affairs while leaving men culpable when they disobey since He has made His revealed will known by way of command and precept. Men are responsible to obey God’s command. It is those revealed commands by which they will be judged. Man is not responsible for God’s eternal decrees. This is why Christians should promiscuously publish the Gospel. They do not know who is and who isn’t elect and reprobate and so they go to all men and command them to repent while promising those who labor and are heavy laden with sin that Jesus will receive them.
Clark Pinnock refers disapprovingly to “the exceedingly paradoxical notion of two divine wills regarding salvation.” In Pinnock’s more recent volume (A Case for Arminianism) Randall Basinger argues that, “if God has decreed all events, then it must be that things cannot and should not be any different from what they are.” In other words he rejects the notion that God could decree that a thing be one way and yet teach that we should act to make it another way. He says that it is too hard “to coherently conceive of a God in which this distinction really exists”
Part of the problem here is a unhealthy preoccupation with the secret things of God. God’s eternal decrees are hidden except as they are revealed to us in generic fashion. Who is and is not elect is part of God’s hidden decree. The fact that there are those who are and are not elect generically speaking is part of God’s revealed word.
Still, despite Basinger’s protestations the Prophets are rife with being assigned tasks by God while being told at the same time they would not be successful.
I have deleted four paragraphs from this Piper paper because he says nothing controversial or that I would take issue with.
Illustrations of Two Wills in God
The Death of Christ
The most compelling example of God’s willing for sin to come to pass while at the same time disapproving the sin is his willing the death of his perfect, divine Son. 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 (boule) and foreknowledge of God.” The betrayal was sin, and it involved the instrumentality of Satan; but it was part of God’s ordained plan. That is, there is a sense in which God willed the delivering up of his Son, even though the act was sin.
It is important to note here that Judas is held accountable for disobeying God’s revealed command of “Thou Shalt Not Murder.” In the eternal decree of God Judas was always the “son of perdition.”
When we say that “Judas violated God’s will” we muddy the waters since it suggests that somehow God was frustrated. Looking at this event retrospectively, we would be better served to say that Judas, due to the eternal decree of God, disobeyed God’s revealed command and so is held responsible for his sin. If someone were to respond by saying, “Well since we can’t help but do what God decrees then why bother to pay attention to God’s revealed Law-Word,” the answer is found in our Love for God for completely saving us in Christ and in the consequence of Judas’ behavior.
It goes almost without saying that God wills obedience to his moral law, and that he wills this in a way that can be rejected by many. This is evident from numerous texts: “Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord, will enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will (thelema) of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven, he is my brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:50). “The one who does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:17). The “will of God” in these texts is the revealed, moral instruction of the Old and New Testaments, which proscribes sin.
The first sentence would be more perspicuously articulated read as,
It goes almost without saying that God commands obedience to his moral law, but His commands are rejected by many.
Therefore we know 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. But we also know that it was the will of God that this come to pass. Therefore we know that God in some sense wills what he does not will in another sense. I. Howard Marshall’s statement is confirmed by the death of Jesus: “We must certainly distinguish between what God would like to see happen and what he actually does will to happen.”
All of this can be rescued by speaking with a bit more clarity.
Therefore we know it was not according to the revealed Law-Word of God that the company that killed Jesus do so. Still, since all that happens, happens according to God’s eternal decree we know that God foreordained all the disobedience of sinful men without violating the pen-ultimate causes that leave men culpable for their sin.
Marshall’s statement would be better if it went something like this, “We must certainly distinguish between what God has commanded in His Law-Word and what He has eternally decreed to come to pass.”
Much of the confusion in all this dissipates when we understand that we are responsible to God’s revealed commands and that God is responsible to God’s hidden decrees.