In this article, I'll be discussing Hoeksema's writings on the "simplicity" of God's will. But what does it mean to speak of God's will as being 'simple'? Some theologians attempt to make various divisions and distinctions within God's will. For some, it is God's saving will vs. His efficacious will, according to which distinction God has a 'will' that the reprobate be saved, but it is not a desire for their salvation but only a love of complacency; and so God does not elect them. For others, as Hoeksema points out, there is a distinction between God's will of precept and His will of decree. For others yet, a distinction is made between God's revealed will and God's hidden will.
Hoeksema broaches these distinctions because they have been commonly employed in the history of Calvinism in order to aid in the articulation of the doctrine that God wills the salvation even of those whom He does not elect to salvation.
"...one of the most important [questions] is, surely, whether it is at all correct - even apart from the question of a duality of wills in God -- to speak oft he alleged will of God for the salvation of all men as preceptive, in distinction from His will for the salvation of the elect only as being decretive. And the same question may be raised with respect to the distinctions revealed and hidden"(Hoeksema).
According to this doctrine, although God only elects unto salvation a particular, definite number of people, upon no other condition than His arbitrary will, yet He still possesses a non-efficacious will of salvation even for the reprobate.
Hoeksema's aim in his article series, rather than to merely address the question of whether or not there is such a thing as a well-meant offer or a saving will, is to emphasize the consequences and implications this has for our theology proper. It follows that if there is some form of dual will in God, God's will is not "simple." But Hoeksema denies the existence of such a dual will, and he is equally keen to affirm the simplicity of God's will. Thus:
"...more than one of Herman Hoeksema's attackers at that time attacked him for his "Gods-beschouwing (view of God)," suggesting that he preached a hard, tyrannical God. There was more truth thanf iction at the basis of that attack -- not in the sense that hoeksema's view of God was evil, but in the sense that these attackers recognized, perhaps rather intuitively, that the underlying issue was a theological issue, a contest betweent wo conflicting views of God. Somewhat later, ins ome of the polemical writings about the issue of the "general, well-meant offer," this became abundantly clear; and there ws sharp debate which focused preciscely on the truth of the simplicity of the will of God. And a little analyssi of contemporary writings will show that the issue is still, at bottom, a theological issue, not only a soteriological issue. This becomes abundantly plain, for examnple, in James Daane's The Freedom of God, in which he fumes and fulminates against an alleged 'deceretal theology" of Hoeksema and others.
All of this serves to underscore the seriousness of this issue. To make soteriological pronouncements is serious enough; w hen we take into account that these soteriological pronouncements are at once theological pronouncements, then matters become much more serious still. To err soteriologically is bad; to err theologically is heinous, for them we speak the lie about God Himself, about His Being, Nature, Mind, Will, Attributes, Works. Karl Barth wrote somewhere about those who oimagine that they say "God" while all the time they are loudly saying "MAN!" That is idolatry. And that is the basic issue -- a spiritual, ethical issue - in all theologizing. In our theology we must beware that we do not busy ourselves in making idols! We must beware that we do not say "Man" when we purport to say "God.""
Hoeksema's primary theological opponent at this point is Professor Heyns, a teacher for many years at Calvin College. Hoeksema himself had sat under Heyns at one point, and it was Heyns who exercised the most influence in making the doctrine of the well-meant offer, more than any other theologian, one of the hallmarks of the Christian Reformed Church.
Hoeksema's theological opponent who advocates this distinction affirms that sin has made man spiritually insane. Hoeksema takes issue with this immediately on epistemological grounds:
"In the first place I differ with Heyns in regard to the presentation that man through sin has become insane. This after all is the presentation. His reason is affected, so that he from a rational viewpoint sees things incorrectly. He has become so insane that he sees a contradiction where there ies harmony, that what he calls Yes can also be No, that if he says that God does not will something, he cannot trust his understanding to say that He t herefore also cannot twill it. By this the subject of all revelation is annihilated. If this is so, then there is no knowledge of God possible, then every attempt to develop a theological conception is senselessn. Then there can be an election, but this still does not say that some are saved; then there can be a reprobation, but that still does not say that some go lost. Then there can be a God, but thereby it is still not said that the assertion that there is no God also is not true. Heyns does not express here that the sinner is spiritually darkened; nor does he say that our understanding is finite and can never comprehend the infinite; but that man, the natural and the regenerate man, is insane. He puts all theology at loose ends. And over against this I very decidedly hold that man is indeed spiritually darkened and blind, that hte has also lost many of his original gifts, so that he also can no more know things as Adam knew them in the state of rectitude, but that he is normal in his understanding and not insane"(Hoeksema).
Furthermore, Hoeksema takes issue with Heyns' doctrine of scripture, which is crucially bound up with his epistemology:
"In the second place I do not go along with Heyns in his attack upon Holy Scripture. He asserts that we see in a faulty metal mirror. And that metal mirror is certainly Holy Scripture. But although it is true that in that mirror we do not see face to face, but a reflection of God, nevertheless I also maintain that in God's Word we have an adequate revelation of God, upon which we can depend, and no faulty mirror. Also by this assertion Heyns simply undermines the foundations for all theology. I will accept it that he does not intend it thus; in actual fact he indeed does this. I maintain therefore that we through the means of the adequate revelation of God in Holy Scripture can come to a logically construed conception of God and His works. That that which we see as Yes can also be No by virtue ofa faulty revelation and an affected understanding, that I deny with all that is in me"(Hoeksema).
Hoeksema's points here seem similar to that of Gordon Clark. According to Clark, God's person and mind are both logical, and so His self-revelation in scripture are both rational. Hoeksema adds "This does not mean that we can fathom God. It does mean that we can rationally understand His revelation." But it is not clear to me what he means here. What does he mean by "fathom"? Hoeksema unfortunately does not explain. He sees this issue as a "parenthesis."
What is of particular importance for us is the crucial connection the doctrine of God's two wills has with the doctrine of the well-meant offer. God's supposedly non-salvific will for all humans is expressed (it is argued) in His "well-meant" offer of Gospel salvation to everyone indiscriminately. If the Gospel preached to everyone is well-meant, "meant" implies the existence of an intention of benevolence on the part of the one doing the "meaning."
Heyns goes on to explain the significance of God's possession of two wills by noting that they do not lie "entirely on the same plane, so that the willing and not willing concerning the same matter would be a directly opposite standing of the one will over against the other as light over against light, for then the one will would annihilate the other and a condition of arbitrariness (will-less-ness) would arise." Hoeksema makes the crucial point, again, with respect to epistemology, that Heyns "is here busily reasoning and, depending entirely upon his reason, however crooked and perverse this may also be according to his own presentation..." Heyns uses the analogy of a king who declares war despite his desire to avoid it. The king does will it, insofar as he declares it, but this, only out of necessity of circumstance rather than out of sheer enjoyment of war for its own sake.
What is particularly disturbing is how Heyns sees God's will as determined by something external to Him:
"It must be accepted...that the decrees in a relative sense were also determined by that which the world was, and consequently by things outside of God, which were indeed created by Him, but which do not belong to His Being. Were this world different, a world and another condition, then the decrees, and along with them the will of the decrees, would have been different."
He thus introduces the dangerous notion of modal possibility into his theology; a modal category which is arguably utterly incompatible with authentically monergistic Christianity.
Hoeksema notes the irony that while initially condemning human reason because of the noetic effects of sin, and exalting scripture in contrast to it, Heyns yet depends entirely on human reason without even mentioning scripture:
"In the first place, I may indeed point out that this entire philosophy is derived from the reason and the understanding of Prof. Heyns. Not in a single instance does he reason from or even refer to Scripture. Although he rubs it in to others that they trust altogether in their crooked and perverse understanding, Heyns simp,ly boldly reasons, without so much as concerning himself about Holy Scripture. He does not even think of supporting this explanation with Scripture"(Hoeksema).
For Hoeksema, this sort of "dualism" is the worship of two totally different gods. In the end, it leads logically to Arminianism. Hoeksema summarizes this in three points:
"1. That all that Holy Scripture teaches us concerning God in His Being and nature and works totally condemns the presentation of two wills in God which stand in conflict with one another, and that God's Word teaches the absolute oneness, independence, and unchangeableness of God.
2. That Scripture not only teaches that God does not will the salvation of all, but also that He, entirely in harmony with His natur eand Being, wills the damnation of the ungodly reprobate.
3. That the texts which Heyns cites in order to prove that there is also another will in God, according to which He would will the salvation of all men, in no wise teach this, and that even Heyns, from his own viewpoint, cannot possibly maintain that exegesis."
For Hoeksema, this is not merely a soteriological issue, as we have seen before, but a theological issue. For him, to affirm that God has internally conflicting wills is to deny His oneness (Deut. 4:35, 39, 6:4, Ps. 18:31, Isa. 43:10-13, 45:5, 6, 7, 18, 21). Since Heyns likewise holds that God's will is reactive and responds to external circumstances, it also denies God's independence (Deut. 32:39, Dan. 4:35, Ps. 33:11, Prov. 16:4, Isa. 46:10, Rom. 9:18, 11:34-36, Eph. 1:11b, 1 Sam. 15:29, Mal. 3:6, Jas. 1:17).
For Hoeksema, there is no internal discord in God's will:
"these passages also teach us that God's counsel is exactly His good pleasure. His counsel shall stand, and He shall do all His good pleasure. The counsel of the Lord standeth forever, the thoughts of His heart from generation to generation. And who has ever given Him counsel? The counsel of the Lord is, therefore, His good pleasure. He has pleasure in His decrees."
Hoeksema holds that God wills the salvation only of the elect and does in any sense will the salvation of the reprobate. It is in this respect that he disagrees with Heyns, who holds that God does in some sense will the salvation of the reprobate. Hoeksema turns to a discussion of the relevant texts concerning the debate. He objecfts to Heyns' universalistic reading of 1 Tim. 2:4, according to which Heyns believes that God desires the salvation of everyone without exception. There is God's revealed will, which he believes to be the salvation of everyone to whom the Gospel is presented, and there is God's hidden will, which is what God actually intends to carry out with respect to election. Although God reveals a general desire for the salvation of everyone without exception, he only intends to actually elect specific, definite individuals for salvation.
Hoeksema makes the point that the translators of Statenvertaling mention in their marginal notes that 1 Tim. 2:4 must refer to all kinds of men rather than every man distributively because (among other reasons):
"This word all is taken also here...The meaning is: we explain for all kinds as appears from the preceding second verse, for which this verse furnishes a reason; as also from the world wills, for if God wills that all men be saved, t hen they shall also all be saved, seeing that God does all that He wills, Psalm 115:3; Romans 9:19; Ephesians 1:11. And the same is also proved from that which thea postle here adds, that God wills that they all come unto the knowledge of the truth, seeing that the Scripture testifies that this is a privilege of God's people. See Psalm 147:19,20; Matthew 11:25; John 6:45; Ephesians 2:12, etc. That anyone would want to say that such is God's will if men also will it, that is to make salvation depend partly on God's will, partly on man's will, which is in conflict with what the apostle teaches, Romans 9:16, 23; 10:20; and 11:35, 36, and consistently elsewhere."
Hoeksema notes that Heyns brings against the affirmation of the simplicity of God's will the accusation of rationalism. And yet, as Hoeksema again points out he, as well as the translators of the Statenbijbel, are not appealing to man's autonomous reason, but simply to scripture. The irony, of course, as Hoeksema points out, is that it would appear that it is Heyns who is the rationalistic one. As we saw earlier, Heyns relies upon his own reason to affirm that God in some sense wills the salvation of those whom He in terms of electing love has no desire to save whatsoever. His is a kind of irrationalistic rationalism, totally devoid of even an attempt to support scripture.
Hoeksema examines a few crucial texts in which the word "all" is used in scripture in order to demonstrate that the significance of the universality predicated of its objects is not always unrestricted. 2 Cor. 5:14-15 and Rom. 8:31, for example, plainly refers exclusively to the text. Romans 5:18 uses the word to refer only to an intensive scope; it is not saying that because of Adam's fall everyone incurred condemnation (true though this is) but that the consequence of being in union with Adam is forensic condemnation, just as forensic union with Christ entails forensic justification. Jhn. 12:32, likewise, refers to humans of all ethnicities rather than everyone without exception. He also points out that Heyns would never argue thus with respect to 1 Tim. 2:6, even though the word "all" is in the same chapter as 1 Tim. 2:4; indeed, only two verses apart. Were he to argue this, he would be teaching general atonement; something in which he does not believe at all.
More controversial, perhaps, is 2 Peter 3:9. Heyns quotes Calvin in connection with a reading of this passage which would teach a universal desire of salvation of God towards even the reprobate. Calvin's commentary on this text reads thus:
"So wonderful is His love towards mankind, that He would have them all to be saved, and is of His ownself prepared to bestow salvation on the lost. But the order is to be noticed, that God is ready to receive all to repentance, so that none may perish; for in these words the way and manner of obtaining salvation is pointed out. Every one of us, therefore, who is desirous of salvation, must learn to enter in by this way. But it may be asked, if God wishes none to perish, why is it that so many do perirsh. To this my answer is, that no mention is here made of the hidden purpose of God, according to which the reprobate are doomed to their own ruin, but only of His will as made known to us in the gospel. For God there stretches forth His hand without a difference to all, but lays hold only of those to lead them to Himself, whom He has chosen before the foundation of the world."
Thus, it would appear that Calvin understands 2 Peter 3:9 as referring to God's desire for the salvation of everyone without exception, and He articulates this according to a distinction between God's hidden will and God's revealed will.
Interestingly enough, Calvin later repudiated this reading. In "Calvin's Calvinism" he writes:
"For as to that distinction commonly held in the schools concerning the twofold will of God, such a distinction is by no means admitted to us"(p. 118), as Hoeksema points out. He also writes in the same work "There is, perhaps, a stronger colour in some of the words of Peter, which might have better suited your purposes, where he says that God is 'not willing that any sh ould perish, but that all should come to repentance' (II Peter 3:9). And if there be anything in the first member of the passage that seems difficult of comprehension at first sight, it is made perfectly plain by the explanation which follows. For, in as far as God 'willeth that all shoudl come unto repentance,' in so far He willeth that no one should perish; but, in order that they may thus be received of God, they must 'come.' But the Scripture everywhere affirms, that in order that they may 'come,' they must be prevented [preceded, as to grace] of God..."
Thus, although Calvin did initially at an earlier date understand 2 Peter 3:9 as speaking of a universal will of God to save everyone without exception that was nonetheless non-efficacious, he later repudiated this interpretation and the theology behind it.
Likewise, Hoeksema notes the marginal note of the Statenbijbel: "namely, of us, who are powerfully called and still shall be. For since God can do and also dodes all that he wills, therefore this cannot be understood of all and every man, seeing that Scripture and experience both testify that all men are not saved, but many go lost." Thus, the translators of the early Dutch version repudiate such a reading of the text. Hoeksema also notes the amnifeset absurdity of such a reasoning insofar as God does not even have the Gospel preached to everyone without exception. It is therefore difficult to understand how God could express his will of benevolence, a general, non-salvific love of all men, to everyone without exception, in the preaching of the Gospel, when he does not even preach the Gospel to everyone without exception.
Hoeksema summarizes his reading of the text and his understanding of its significance thus:
And now the apostle teaches in the words of the text which we are considering that they may not thus explain the tarrying of the Lord. Not slackness, but longsuffering is the motive. he is longsuffering over His people, over us. And what now is longsuffering? It is the attitude of the love of God upon his people according to which He with a divine desire longs to deliver them out of their suffering in the world and to make them partakers of everlasting glory, but does not realize that deliverance and glory until His Church shall be complete and the time for their glorification shall be ripe. Even as a husbandman is longsuffering over the harvest, waiting for the early and the latter rains, although he eagerly desires to bring in the fruits, so God is longsuffering over His people, still exposing them to the suffering of this present time, until the church shall be complete."
When all of the elect have come to repentance, then Christ will return. indeed, 2 Peter 3 is about the second coming of Christ. When all the elect have reached repentance, the harvest will be ripe for reaping, and Christ will return to judge the quick and the dead. Christ's delaying of His coming until the sum total of the Church has repented is a prominent theme in Scripture and it should come as no surprise that Peter should mention it here in connection with the Second Coming of Christ. Thus, the doctrine of the two-wills of God cannot be maintained from the texts here examined.
Hoeksema notes that Stonehouse and Murray, in their defense of a universal will of salvation for the reprobate, note that this universal will cannot obtain for His will of decree, since this would entail a contradiction. It therefore applies only to their distinction between God's revealed will and His hidden will. Hoeksema rejects this distinction as incompatible with the simplicity of God's will, though we will not discuss this in detail until later. For now, though, Hoeksema writes:
"It is important to note...that, very plainly, they do not escape the problem with respect to the will of God. Though they do not directly mention the simplicity of God in the above paragraphs, they are evidently aware of its being involved when they refer to the possibility of contradiction. However, their attempt to escape the contradicftion, "God wills and God does not will," is obviously a failure. Instead of positing contradiction within the one, decretive will of God, they posit two wills in God, and then leave those two wills inc ontradiction with one another. Nevertheless, when we take into account the fact that the "decretive will" of God is also a revealed will, that is, that the "Decretive will" of God has been revealed, it becomes evident that Murray and Stonehouse do not escape the contradiction which they seek to escape. For what they write above can be reduced to these two propositions: 1. God, according to His eternal degree, does not will the salvation of the reprobate. (Obviously, this is a revealed truth: If it were not, we could not make the statement). 2. God, according to His revelation, does indeed will the slavation of the reprobate."
Hoeksema makes the crucial point that Murray and Stonehouse predicate "pleasure" of the contemplation of the salvation of the reprobate. And yet, the use of the word "pleasure" in systematic theology (beneplacitum, eudokia) -- that is, "good pleasure", refers to what God is "pleased" to do according to His decree. Their terminology, as Hoeksema points out, therefore borders on straightforward Arminianism. Murray and Stonehouse cite Ezek. 33:11 as an instance of the supposed fact that God is pleasured at the idea that therreprobate be saved. And yet how can they reconcile this with Eph. 1:5, in which we are told that God's good pleasure is exhibited in the salvation of the elect according to His unconditional election before the foundations of the world? Murray and Stonehouse are approaching dangerous ground at this point. Hoeksema summarizes this absurdity in two propositions:
"1. God, according to the will of His decree, is filled with hatred against the reprobate, and reveals Himself as such. 2. God, according to His preceptive will, His revelation in the "offer," is filled with a real disposition of lovingkindness towards the reprobate."
Hoeksema points out that Calvin elsewhere condemns the distinction between a permissive vs. active will of God. I myself have quoted Calvin at length on this subject. He dedicates all of chapter 18 of Book 1 of his "Institutes" to refuting such a notion. He therefore, at least on this point, steadfastly maintains the simplicity of God's will. Murray himself, commenting on Calvin's interpretation of Ezekiel 18:23, notes disapprovingly that Calvin emphasized the importance of understanding God's will as simple:
"It is more probable that the Latin ver velle, translated on three occasions above by the English term 'wishes,' should rather be rendered 'wills.' The present writer is not persuaded that we may speak of God's will as 'simple,' after the pattern of Calvin's statement. There is the undeniable fact that, in regard to sin, God decretively wills what He preceptively does not will. There is the contradiction. We must maintain that it is perfectly consistent with God's perfection that this contradiction should obtain. But it does not appear to be any resolution to say that God's will is 'simple,' even in the sense of the Latin term simplex."
Indeed, Hoeksema notes that Murray understands God's "good pleasure" as referring to His prescriptive will:
"What a dismal perspective and prospect that alternative would offer to us! We must boldly maintain and profess the only alternative which Calvin so insistently asserted. In the realm of sin we do have the contradiction of God's revealed and prescriptive good pleasure." Hoeksema also cites a footnote in one of Murray's works in which the latter says "There is the undeniable fact that, in regard to sin, God decretively wills what he preceptively does not will. There is the contradiction." Hoeksema rightly criticizes Murray, likewise, for the latter's use of the term "good pleasure" for God's preceptive will when the term (both biblically and in dogmatic theology) refers to God's will of decree.
Hoeksema notes how important and inseparable is the connection between the doctrine of a complex will in God according to which He in one sense wants to save those whom He ultimately depends, and the doctrine of the free offer. In particular, he argues that "When anyone speaks of the "free offer," he is no longer speaking of God's preceptive will, i.e., of what God wills that the creature shall be and do in the spiritual, ethical sense, but of what God Himself wills to do. i.e., save all men." I believe this point of Hoeksema's is crucial. He will not allow advocates of the complex view of God's will to insist that they are merely speaking of the distinction between the preceptive will and decretal will of God with respect to the command to obey the Gospel: "In this light, it is all the more serious when Prof. Murray parts ways with Calvin, as in the footnote which we quoted, and denies the simplicity of the will of God. It is true t hat he still speaks of the decretive-preceptive distinction. But this distinction is not valid in the context, neither does Calvin here employ it, neither does it rescue Prof. Murray in any way from the seriousness of his statement."
Hoeksema next turns his attention to Bavinck's distinction between God's will of decree and His will of precept. For Bavinck, though sovereign over evil, God does not strictly speaking "will" evil:
"...there is in that world one thing which produces special difficulty for the doctrine of thet will of God, and that is the evil, both as the malum copae and as malum poenae, in the ethical and in the physical sense. The evil may stand never so much under God's direction, it can nevertheless not be the object of His will in the same sense and in the same manner as the good. With a view to those entirely different and diametrically oppsoite objects we must again make distinction in the will of God itself. Scripture is our example in this. There is a great difference between the will of God which prescribes for us what we must do, Matthew 7:21, 12;50, John 4:34, 7:17, Rom. 12:2, and the will of God which says what He does and shall do, Psalm 115:3, Daniel 4:17, 25, 32, 35, Romans 9:18, 19, Ephesians 1:5, 9, 11, Revelation 4:11. The prayer that God's will may be done, Matthew 6:10, has an entirely different sense than the childlike trusting: Thy will be done, Matthew 26:42, Acts 21:14. And so we repeatedly see that will of God appearing in history in a twofold sense. God commands Abraham to offer up his son, and nevertheless does not let lit happen, Genesis 22. He wills that Pharaoh shall let Israel go and nevertheless hardens his heart, so that he does not do this, Exodus 4:21. He lets it be told to Hezekiah that he shall die, and nevertheless adds 15 years to his life, Isaiah 38:1, 5. He forbids to condemn the innocent, and nevertheless Jesus is delivered ov er according to the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, Acts 2:23, 3:18, 4:28. God does not will sin, He is far from wickedness, He forbids it and punishes it stringly, and nevertheless it exists and stands under His direction, Exodus 4:21, Joshua 11:20, 1 Samuel 2:25, 2 Samuel 16:10, Acts 2:23, 4:48, Romans 1:24, 26, 2 Thessalonians 2:11, et cetera. He wills the salvation of all, Ezekiel 18:23, 32; 33:11, 1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9, and nevertheless is merciful to whom He will, and hardens whom He will, Rom. 9:18.
Very soon there arose in theology the distinction between this twofold will of God. Tertullian speaks already of a hidden, higher and of a lower or lesser will. Augustine points out that God many times accomplishes His good will through the evil will of men. later this twofold will received the names of voluntas eudoxias, beneplaciti, arcana, decernens, deretiva and voluntas euarestias, signi, revelata, praecipiens. The name voluntas signi is derived form this, and this will to us signifcat quid Deo gratum sit et nostri sit officii and becomes known by us from the five signa: praeceptio, prohibitio, consilium, permissio, operatio. Worked out in detail by scholasticism, it was generally adopted by Romish theology, and in Reformed theology treated iwth special partiality. Alongside of this there appeared still other distinctions in the will of God; especially that into voluntas antecedens and consequens, which already appears in Tertullian and Damascene; and that into voluntas absoluta and conditionata, efficax and inefficax, which is found already in Augustine. Also these distinctions can be understood in a good sense, namely, in this sense, that God antecedenter and conditionate wills many things, for example, the salvation of all men, which He nevertheless consequenter and absoluta does not will and therefore does not allow to happen. Zanchius then also says that all these distinctions come down to the same thing; and Hyperius, Walaeus, Voetius , and others, are of the same judgment. But although Luther in his book De servo arbitrio had made very sharp distinctions between Deus absconditus and revelatus, the Lutherans rejected this distinction into voluntas beneplaciti and signi, at least in the Reformed sense. The Arminians followed that example. And the Romish theologians still kept the distinction indeed in name, but explained it thus, that the will of God was always voluntas beneplaciti, divided into voluntas antecedens and consequens and that the voluntas signi was nothing but a partial revelation of that will. Thus it happened that, on the one hand the Romish, etc., really kept only the distinction into voluntas antecedens and consequens (absoluta and conditionata), and the Reformed only kept that into voluntas beneplaciti and signi (deceernens and praecipiens, arcana and revelata), with rejection of the distinction into voluntas antecedens and consequens. The difference comes down to this, that the Romish, Lutherans, Remonstrats, etc., proceed from the voluntas signi; this si the real will, consisting in this, that God does not will but only will permit sin, that He wills the salvation of all, offers grace to all, etc.; and when man then has decided, God adapts Himself to this, He defines what He wills, the salvation of whoever believes, the perdition of whoever does not believe. The voluntas consequens follows upon the decision of man, and is not the real, essential will of God, but the action of God occasioned by the conduct of man. Over against this the Reformed proceeded from the voluntas beneplaciti and held this to be the real, essential will of God; that will always goes through, always reaches its purpose, and is eternal and unchangeable; the voluntas signi, on the other hand, is the prescription of God, in law and gospel, that is valid as the rule for our conduct.
Now it is the current teaching of Scripture, both in the Old and New Testament, that the will of God is eternal, unchangeable, independent, efficacious. Not occasionally is this expressed, for example, Psalm 33:11, 11:53, Dan. 4:25, 35, Isaiah 46:10, Matthew 11:26, Romans 9:18, Ephesians 1:4, Revelation 4:11., but the entire Scripture testifies of this; all the virtues of God demand this; the entire history of the church and of the world presents proof of this. And in harmony with this Christian theology taught, especially since Augustine, that the will of God is simple, eternal, unchangeable, seeing that it is one with His being. The voluntas antecedens is really no will in God, magis portest dici velleitas quam absoluta voluntas. The voluntas signi is called only in a metaphorical sense in God voluntas, sicut cum aliquis praecipit aliquid, signum est quod velit illud fieri. The real will in God is the voluntas beneplaciti, and this is one with God's being, is unchangeable, and is always accomplished. Pelagianism wrongly forsook this line, and elevated a powerless desire, an unfulfilled wish in God to the status of will. By doing this it derogated the entire being and all of the virtues of God. For if the velleitas is the real and essential will of God, then He is robbed of His omnipotence, wisdom, goodness, immutability, independence, etc.; the entire government of the world is then withdrawn from His providence; and irreconcilable dualism is created between God's intention and the result of world history; the outcome is then for God an eternal disappointment; the world plan did not succeed, and Satan triumphs in the end. Now Pelagianism indeed asserts that it acts thus in the interest of God's holiness, and that it maintains this holiness better than do Paul and Augustine, then Thomas and Calvin, because in their view God becomes the author of sin. But this is no more than appearance; on the view of Pelagius sin remains just as inexplicable as it does on that of Augustine; yea, in the latter God's holiness attains its rightful position much better. FOr it is more in harmony with Scripture and all of the Christian faith to accept that God has in a certain sens ewilled sin for wise, although for us unknown reasons, than that He, not willing it in any respect, nevertheless tolerates and permits. The latter after all exactly fall short of His holiness and omnipotence.
To this must be added that Scripture, although theologically placing on the foreground the voluntas beneplaciti, nevertheless at the same time in the voluntas signi maintains how and in what manner He does not will sin. In the esigna of prohibition, admonition, warning, chastisement, punishment, etc., He condescends to us and says what He wants of us. Because man is a rational, moral being, God deals with him not as with a stock and block, but speaks and deals with him in harmony and with his nature. As a father forbids a child the use of a sharp knife, and nevertheless himself handles it without damage, so God forbids to his rational moral creatures sin, which he Himself nevertheless can use and actually uses to the glorification of His Name. The voluntas benepplaciti and the voluntas signi therefore also do not conflict with one another, as the ordinary objection has it. For, first of all, the voluntas signi is really not the will of God, but only His commandment and prescription that is valid as a rule for our conduct. In the voluntas signi He does not say what He shall do; it is no law for His dealings; it does not prescribe what God must do; but He says therein what we must do; it is a rule for our conduct, Deuteronomy 29:29. It is therefore only in a metaphorical sense called voluntas Dei. Indeed, the objection is raised against this that the voluntas signi nevertheless is called thus because it is a signum voluntatis in Deo, and thus must be in agreement with His voluntas beneplaciti. In the second place, let it therefore be noted that this is also indeed so; the voluntas signi is an indication of that which God wills that we shall do. The voluntas beneplaciti and the voluntas signi do not stand directly over against one another, so that God according to the former indeed wills sin and according to the latter does not will sin, according to the former does not will salvation of all and according to the latter does indeed will it, etc. Also according to the voluntas beneplaciti God nevertheless has no pleasure in sin, it is no object of His pleasure, He does not vex out of a delight in vexing. And vice versa, He wills as little according to the voluntas signi as according to the voluntas beneplaciti that all men, head for head, shall be saved; that can, with a view to history, be seriously taught by no one; actually the all in 1 Timothy 2:4 is limited by everyone to a greater or smaller circle. Both stand so little over against each other that the voluntas signi is precisely the way in which the voluntas beneplaciti is accomplished. In the way of admonitions and warnings, prohibitions and threatenings, conditions and demands, God executes His counsel. And the voluntas beneplaciti maintains only that man, transgressing God's commandment, becomes for not a single moment independent of God, but in that same moment serves the counsel of God and becomes an instrument, be it thena lso unwilling, of His glory. Not the voluntas signi only, but also the voluntas beneplaciti is holy and wise and good, and shall precisely in the way of the law and of righteousness become revealed as such in the end. Therefore, finally, the differentiation of both is also to be maintained. It is the problem of right and fact, of idea and history, of the ethical and the actual, of what ought to happena nd of what actually happens, which here confronts us. He who denies the voluntas signi derogates the holiness of God, the majesty of the moral law, the seriousness of sin. On the other hand, he who denies the voluntas beneplaciti comes in conflict with the omnipotence, the wisdom, the independence, the sovereignty of God. On both positions one runs the risk either of closing his eyes for reality with a superficial optimism and calling all that which is actual reasonable, or with a one-sided pessimism to curse his existence and to despair of the world and of his portion. Theism, however, does not seek a solution in getting rid of one of the terms of the problem, but recognizes and mIANtains them both; it sees the lines of the rational and the actual cutting across one another in history every moment; it leads both back to the sovereignty of God and has of it the high idea that also through the unreasonabl eand sinful it shall bring its holy and wise counsel to the execution unto the glory of God's Name. In this His divine sovereignty scintillates after all, that He glorifies His wisdom in man's foolishness, His power in their weakness, His righteousness and grace in their sin."
Bavinck goes on to note the importance of emphasizing the voluntas beneplaciti as the true, ultimate will of God in emphasizing God's sovereignty. He points out that God is called:
"[Lord], Matthew 11:25, Revelation 1:8, 22:5, that is, the Lord, the Proprietor, the Ruler, Who possesses authority and supremacy; the King, Who reigns over all things forever, Exodus 15:18, Psalm 29:10, 93-99, 2 Kings 29:15, Jeremiah 10:7, 10 etc., but especially is King over Israel and as such rules it, protects and leads unto salvation, Numbers 23:21, Deuteronomy 33:5, Judges 8:23, 1 Samuel 8:7, Psalm 10:16, 24:7, 48:3, 74:12, Isaiah 23:22, 41:21, 43:15, etc., and thus also in the New Testament the [great king], Matthew 5:33, 1 Timothy 1:17, the [king of kings and Lord of lords], 1 Tim. 6:15, cf.Revelation 19:16; [almighty], 2 Corinthians 6:18, Revelation 1:8, 4:8, 11:17...who possesses both the [authority, sovereignty], potestas, the right, the authority, and the dignity, Matthew 28:18, Romans 9:21, and the [powerful], [mighty], potentia, the fitness and the might to act, Matthew 6:13, Romans 1:20. But further the omnipotence of God appears from all His works. Creation, preservation, the deliverance of Israel out of Egypt, nature with its ordinances, the history of Israel with its wonders preach loudly and clearly the omnipotence of God. Psalmists and prophets refer to these great deeds repeatedly and adduce them for the humbling of the proud, the comfort of the believer. He is strong in mighty, Isaiah 40:26, creates earth and heaven, Genesis 1, Isaiah 42:5, 44:24, 45:12, 18, 48:13, 51:13, Zechariah 12:1, maintains their ordinances, Jeremiah 5:22, 10:10, 14:22, 27:5, 31:35, forms wind and rain, light and darkness, good and evil, Amos 3:6, 4:13, 5:8, Isaiah 45:5-7, 54:16. He makes dumb and causes to speak, kills and makes alive, saves and causes to perish, Exodus 4:11, Deuteronomy 32:39, 1 Samuel 2:6, 2 Kings 5:7, Exodus 15, Deuteronomy 26:8, 29:2, 32:12, 1 Samuel 14:6, Hosea 13:14, Matthew 10:28, Luke 12:20. he has absolute power over all things, so that nothing can resist Him, Psalm 8. 18, 19, 24, 29, 33, 104, etc., Job 5:9-27, 9:4 ff., 12:14-2134:12-15, 36:37. Nothing is too wonderful for Him, all things are possible for Him, genesis 18:14, Zechariah 8:6, Jeremiah 32:27, Matthew 19:26, Luke 1:37, 18:27, He can raise children of Abraham out of stones, Matthew 3:9. He does all His good pleasure, Psalm 115:3, Isaiah 14:24, 27, 46:10, 55:10, and no one can summon Him to account, Jeremiah 49:19, 50:44. And above all His [power] appears in the works of salvation, in the raising up of Christ, Rom. 1:4, Ephesians 1:20, in the working and strenghtening of faith, Romans 16:15, Ephesians 1:19, int he imparting of grace above what we ask and think, Ephesians 2:20, 2 Corinthians 9:8, 2 Peter 1:3, in the resurrection at the last day, John 5:25 ff., etc. And this power of God is finally also the source of all mighty and authority, of all power and strength in the creatures. From Him is the dominion of man, Genesis 1:26, Psalm 8, the authority of the government, Proverbs 8:15, Romans 13:1-16, the powe of His people, Deuteornomy 8:17, 18, Psalm 68:36, Isaiah 40:26 ff., the strength of the horse Job 39:22, the power of the thunder, Psalm 29:4, 68:34, etc. In one eword, His is the strength, Psalm 62:12, and to Him belong the power and the strength, Psalm 96:7, Revelation 4:11, 5:12, 7:12, 19:1.
Entirely in harmony with their doctrine concerning the will and the freedom of God, the nominalists describe the omnipotence of God thus, that by it God can not only do what He wills, but also can do everything. Distinguishing between the potentia absoluta and the ordinata, they juged that God according to the one could also sin, err, suffer, die, become a stone or an ainmal, could change bread into the body of Christ, could do contradictory things, could make undone what had happened, could make the false true and the true false, etc. According to His potential absoluta God is therefore purely arbitrary pure potential without any contnet, which is nothing and which can become everything. Principally this is the standpoint of all who maintain the primacy of the will, and therefore this view has reappeared repeatedly. It occurs not only in Christendom but also among other religions, especially Islam. On the other side stand those who say that God can only dow hat He wills and that He also cannot do that which He does not will. The possible iis coextensive with the actual. What does not become reality is also not possible. God has fully exhausted His power in the world. This was already the opinion of Plato and Plotinus, and further of certain church fathers, but was especially tuaght in the Middle Ages by Abelard, Deus non potest facere aliquid praeter ea quae facit. And thus later the Cartesian theologians Burmannus, Braun Wittichius, judged, and further Spinoa, Schleirmacher, Strasz, Schweizer, Nitzsch and others.
Scripture condemns the one as well as the other viewpoint. On the one hand, it says expressly that God cannot do many things; he cannot lie, cannot repent, cannot change, cannot be tempted, Numbers 23:119, 1 Samuel 15:29, hebrews 6:18, James 1:13, 17...2 Timothy 2:13; for His will is one with His being and the potentia absoluta, which disconnects the power of God from His other virtues is nothing else than a vain and impermissible abstraction. On the other hand, Scripture declares just as decisively that the possible extends much farther than the actual, Genesis 18:14, jeremiah 32:27, Zechariah 8:76, Matthew 3:9, 19:26, Luke 1:37, 18:27. And to this Christian theology held. Augustinte says on the one hand that God's will and power are not distinct from His being...Indeed God's omnipotence consists therein, that He can do what He wills...But God cannot will everything. He cannot deny Himself...But then Augustine argues further that this is no lack in power, but precisely true, absolute omnipotence. It would be exactly impotence if He could err, sin, etc. twofold sense...By Reformed theologians the distinction into potentia Dei absoluta and ordinata was definitely only recognized to a certain point. The nominalists had misused this in order to assert that God according to the former could do everything, also what was in conflict with His nature, and by this had argued also especially in favor of the doctrine of transubstantiation. Calvin opposed this and he rejected such a commentum potentiae absolutae as profane. The Romish therefore accused Calvin that he limited the omnipotence of God and thus denied it. But Calvin did not therefore deny that God could do more than He actually did, but he opposed only such a potentia absoluta, which would not be bound to His being and virtues and thus could do all kinds of contradictory things. Thus conceived, int he sense of Augustine and Thomas, the distinction referred to was also generally accepted by Reformed theologians. And thus understood, this distinction is also to be approved."
Hoeksema summarizes Bavinck's most important points relative to our discussion of the simplicity of God's will:
"1) Dr. Bavinck stronjgly emphasiszes the sovereignty of the will of God and wants by all means to hold to it.
2) Over against all nominalistic tendencies, Dr. Bavinck is averse to all arbitrariness in the will of God. Yet he ewants to insist on the freedom of God's will. He certainly does not want to present the will of God as being under any compulsion.
3) While Bavinck very strongly maintains the freedom of the will of God, yet wants nothing of nominalistic arbitrariness, he does not maintain the freedom of the divine will at the expense of, or in separation from, the other divine perfections. In other words, Bavinck also in this respect maintains the truth of God's simplicity. There is perfect harmony, for example, between the will of God and the wisdom of God.
4) Especially worthwhile are the distinctions which Dr. Bavinck draws...between the will of God's good pleasure, or His decretive will (voluntas beneplaciti) and the will of God's command, or His preceptive will (voluntas signi). In this connection we ought to notice, first of all, that Dr. Bavinck surely wants to distinguish these two concepts very clearly, and not to confuse them. In the second place, he maintains here the simplicity of the wil of God. This is plain from such statements as: "The voluntas beneplaciti and the voluntas signi therefore do not conflict with one another, as the ordinary objection has it. Again: "The voluntas beneplaciti and the voluntas signi do not stand directly over against one another, so that God according to the former indeed wills isn and according to the latter does not will sin, according to the former does not will the salvation of all and according to the latter does indeed will it, etc." And again: "Both stand so little over against each other that the voluntas signi is precisely the way in which the voluntas beneplaciti is accomplished." In the third place, we ought to note Bavinck's clear explanation of what is called the voluntas signi, and in connection with this, his statement that it "is really not the will of God, but only His commandment and prescription that is valid as a rule for our ocnduct. In the voluntas signi He does not say what He shall do;...But He says therein what we must do....It is therefore only in a metaphorical sense called voluntas Dei." The views of men like Murray and Heyns, previosuly referred to in this discussion, cannot be fitted into Bavinck's scheme. In the fourth place -- because our interest is especially in this aspect of the simplicity of the will of God -- we should note this statement of Bavinck: "And vice versa, He wills as little according to the voluntas signi as according to the voluntas beneplaciti that all men, head for head, shall be saved...." Very plainly, therefore, specifically with regard to the issue of the "offer of the gospel" Dr. Bavinck maintains the simplicity of the will of God.
5) An analysis of what Bavinck here presents will show that he finds the focal point of the perfect harmony of the will of God in His holiness. This comes to the fore especially in connection with Bavinck's discussion of the reloation between the will of God and sin"(Hoeksema).
Hoeksema, H. "Simplicity of God's will and the Free Offer." Protestant Reformed Journal.