Posted by: Grover Gunn | August 15, 2008

Amyraldianism, the Federal Vision and the Westminster Confession of Faith

The PCA report on the Federal Vision twice quotes the concluding statement of Chapter III, Section VI of the Westminster Confession of Faith:

“Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.”

The second of the nine declarations in this PCA position paper also uses similar language:

“The view that an individual is ‘elect’ by virtue of his membership in the visible church; and that this ‘election’ includes justification, adoption and sanctification; but that this individual could lose his ‘election’ if he forsakes the visible church, is contrary to the Westminster Standards.”

Some have criticized the use of this language as a critique of the Federal Vision because this language lists salvific benefits without specifying whether they refer to individual or corporate salvation. Yet an examination of the Westminster Assembly’s usage of this language as a critique of Amyraldianism suggests the appropriateness of using this language in a critique of the Federal Vision.

On pages 138-144 of his book The Westminster Assembly and Its Work, B.B. Warfield discusses the history behind the inclusion of this very sentence, the last sentence in Chapter III, Section VI, in the Confession of Faith. Warfield says,

“This debate, begun Wednesday morning, October 22, [1645,] and continued at least to October 31, constitutes one of the most notable debates reported in the Minutes, and certifies us that the closing sentence of the sixth section is one of the most deliberate findings of the Assembly.”

The debate reveals that there was a small group at the Assembly whose views on the extent of the atonement had been influenced by Cameron and Amyraut. The confessional statement that “neither are any other redeemed by Christ … but the elect only” was a reference to the redemption accomplished at the cross, an affirmation of the doctrine of limited atonement and a denial of the hypothetical universal atonement affirmed by the Amyraldians.

According to the original Amyraldianism, God decreed for Christ to die for everyone without exception with a universal, hypothetical atonement conditioned on faith, and God decreed for the Holy Spirit to work faith only in the hearts of the elect. This is basically an effort to combine an Arminian view of the accomplishment of the atonement through the work of Christ with a Calvinistic view of the application of the atonement through the work of the Spirit. There are a number of problems with this approach. The Arminian view of the atonement contradicts those Scriptures which teach a definite substitutionary atonement that infallibly saves all those whom God intended it to save. This view also denies that the cross pays the price to redeem the elect from unbelief and purchases for them the gift of faith, and thus cuts the direct link between the objective accomplishment of the atonement and its effectual subjective application. The Amyraldian perspective disrupts the economic unity of the Trinity with the Father first sending Christ to accomplish the atonement for all without exception and then together with the Son sending the Holy Spirit to apply that atonement only to the elect.

According to Warfield, the Amyraldian view represented at the Assembly was a modified version in which Christ died for the elect with an effectual, saving atonement and for the non-elect with a hypothetical atonement conditioned on faith. This modified view results in Christ’s dying in different senses for different people: in a definite saving atonement for the elect and in an indefinite hypothetical and conditional sense for the non-elect. Their position that Christ died in a hypothetical sense for the non-elect conditioned on faith together with their acceptance of the Calvinistic doctrine of total depravity and their teaching that the Holy Spirit regenerates and thus works faith in the hearts of only the elect has the same practical outcome as the regular Calvinistic teaching that God passes by the non-elect and has ordained them to dishonor and wrath for their sin (WCF 3.7).

The only apparent motivation for this confusing doctrinal complexity is the notion that one must have an atonement that is not only infinite in value but also in some sense decretively intended for all without exception in order to justify the free offer of the gospel. What this effort is really doing is improperly mixing the decretive and the preceptive aspects of God’s will. In His decrees, God has unconditionally foreordained for His own glory whatsoever comes to pass. In His revealed will, God offers promises which He will fulfill when specified conditions are met. When one views the atonement from the perspective of God’s decrees, one sees a definite atonement which will save everyone whom God has decreed for it to save. When one views the atonement from the perspective of God’s revealed will, one sees an atonement of infinite saving value which God freely, genuinely and sincerely offers indiscriminately through the gospel message. These two views of the atonement are complimentary and not contradictory. God sincerely desires obedience to His revealed will and is sincerely grieved by disobedience to His revealed will, including the gospel command and offer. Yet God’s greatest obligation is to the greatest good, which is His own glory, and this is what He has consistently decreed.

Again, a few Westminster Divines held to this modified Amyraldianism, and this resulted in an extended debate when the Westminster Assembly was working on the confession of faith. Warfield says the following regarding the debate on the concluding statement of Chapter III, Section VI of the Westminster Confession of Faith:

“The result of the debate was a refusal to modify the Calvinistic statement in this direction — or perhaps we should say the definitive rejection of the Amyraldian views and the adoption of language which was precisely framed to exclude them.”

So according to Warfield, the following confessional statement “was precisely framed to exclude” the modified Amyraldianism:

“Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.”

If the language of this statement was appropriate for excluding the view that Christ provided for all the non-elect a hypothetical salvation conditioned on a faith which they will never exercise, then this language is also appropriate for excluding the view that Christ provided for some non-elect a corporate salvation conditioned on a perseverance which they will never exercise. The criticism that this confessional language is not relevant to any Federal Vision teaching because it does not use the appropriate qualifiers would also make this language irrelevant to modified Amyraldianism, the very doctrine which, according to Warfield, it was framed to exclude. Such criticism must be misguided because it proves too much.

In the earlier days of the Federal Vision, some proponents made statements which seemed to define the corporate salvation experienced by everyone in the visible church as the common product of an undifferentiated, homogeneous grace in which the elect persevere and the non-elect do not. This is analogous to the original Amyraldian position. In one, there is a hypothetical redemption for all without exception conditioned on faith; in the other, there is a corporate salvation for all in the visible church head for head conditioned on perseverance.

Later some Federal Vision proponents made clear that the differing outcomes (perseverance for the elect and non-perseverance for the non-elect) must indicate differences in the corporate salvation experienced by the elect and the non-elect in the visible church. This more refined view is analogous to the modified Amyraldianism discussed above. One teaches a definite atonement for the elect; the other teaches a corporate salvation with the seeds of perseverance in it for the elect in the visible church. One teaches a hypothetical atonement for the non-elect conditioned on a faith which the non-elect will never exercise; the other teaches a corporate salvation without the seeds of perseverance for the non-elect in the visible church conditioned on a perseverance which the non-elect will never exercise. In contrast to these Federal Vision and Amyraldian views, the confession teaches that “neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.” According to the confession, both the elect and the non-elect in the visible church may experience the outward privileges of the church and the common operations of the Spirit.

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Responses

  1. When one views the atonement from the perspective of God’s revealed will, one sees an atonement of infinite saving value which God freely, genuinely and sincerely offers indiscriminately through the gospel message.

    I’ve never quite understood how the “infinite saving value” of the atonement argument adequately answers the objection raised by the “free offer” of the gospel. There’s no doubt that the Son of God is “infinitely” valuable due to His divine nature. There’s also no doubt that in itself His atoning death was “infinitely” valuable and fully capable of saving every person who has ever lived had God determined to do so.

    But this is only a hypothetical “infinite” sufficiency when it comes to the actual accomplishment of the atonement. The fact still remains that only the sins of the elect were imputed to Christ; He only “bore our sins in His own body on the tree” (1 Pet 2:24). Therefore, the atonement is not actually “infinitely” sufficient to save the non-elect if they would believe the “free offer” of the gospel, because Christ did not actually bear their sins or suffer the penalty of death in their stead. It seems much more biblical to simply say that Christ’s death was “infinitely” sufficient to save all those for whom it was intended and accomplished — that is, the elect.

    “By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all…For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.” (Heb 10:10, 14)

  2. Thank you for your comments, Roger.

    One thing I respect about Calvinism is its recognition of the creaturely limitations upon our understanding. I believe God can tie every loose end of doctrine, and He has revealed to us in Scripture many of the “knots” He uses. God has, however, not revealed every such knot to us, and some of these unrevealed knots are beyond our comprehension. I believe that some of the knots which God uses in tying up what are, from our perspective, loose ends in the relationship between God’s decretive will and God’s preceptive will, are beyond our comprehension. This limits our ability to understand in exhaustive detail the relationship between a definite atonement and the free offer of the gospel. We distort revealed truth when we begin tying our own little comprehensible knots as substitutes for those which God hasn’t revealed because they are beyond our comprehension. We are tempted to do that because we want a neat doctrinal package with no apparent loose ends. When we do that, human reason ceases to be the servant of divine revelation and exalts itself as coregent or king.

    Regarding your comments on the value of the atonement, I would recommend reading page 331 of volume two of Historical Theology by William Cunningham. If the elect consisted of one sinner, the same infinitely valuable atoning work would be necessary to save him. And if God had elected all of humanity, the same infinitely valuable atonement would be sufficient to save them all. The number of people God has sovereignly chosen to save through the atonement is not the measure of either the degree of the Savior’s suffering or the intrinsic value of the atonement. On the cross, Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” I believe the cry would have been the same if God had legally imputed to Him the sin of one sinner or the sin of all humanity.

    Grover

  3. Thank you for your reply, Grover. You wrote:

    We distort revealed truth when we begin tying our own little comprehensible knots as substitutes for those which God hasn’t revealed because they are beyond our comprehension… When we do that, human reason ceases to be the servant of divine revelation and exalts itself as coregent or king.

    I’m not sure how this applies to the points I raised. If Scripture clearly reveals that only the sins of the elect were imputed to Christ, and that Christ only redeemed the elect when He died as their substitute on the cross, then it follows by “good and necessary consequence” that the free offer of the gospel cannot be grounded upon the “infinite” value of Christ’s death.

    In other words, the fact that Christ was hypothetically capable of redeeming an “infinite” number of people is next to meaningless when we consider the biblical fact that He actually redeemed only a “finite” number of people — the elect. Redemption is an accomplished fact of history, and Christ did not redeem the non-elect. Therefore, the free offer of the gospel cannot be grounded upon the “infinite” value of Christ’s death, for Christ did not die for an “infinite” number of people. It must be grounded upon something else, such as God’s command to indiscriminately preach the gospel to all men throughout the world.

    If anything seems to “distort revealed truth,” it is the notion that the free offer of the gospel is in some way based upon the “infinite” value of Christ’s death.

    Roger

  4. Again, thanks, Roger, for the comment.

    I agree with the statement of the Synod of Dordt: “This death of God’s Son is … of infinite value and worth, more than sufficient to atone for the sins of the whole world.” This infinite value is based on the hypostatic union between the human nature which suffered and the divine Person of the Son of God, who has an infinite majesty. Also, the punishment due each sinner is an infinite divine wrath. The unredeemed will suffer for their sins forever and never end their punishment through a finished payment. Thus the infinitely valuable atoning work of Jesus is necessary to save one sinner and yet also sufficient to save all humanity. In this view, the atonement has a limited design (to save the elect) and an unlimited intrinsic value.

    Some Calvinists do disagree with Dordt and believe that the intrinsic value of the atonement is finite. In this view, Christ suffered enough to pay for the sins of the elect but not enough to pay for one additional sin. If more sins had been imputed to Him, then He would have had to suffer more in order to pay for them; if less, then less. In this view, the atonement has a limited design and a limited intrinsic value as well.

    I agree with you that the free offer is rooted in God’s command to preach the gospel universally. I also believe that the free offer involves God’s desire for obedience to His preceptive or revealed will. John Murray said the following in his article “The Free Offer of the Gospel,” found on pages 113-132 of Volume 4 of his collected writings:

    “It would appear that the real point in dispute in connection with the free offer of the gospel is whether it can properly be said that God desires the salvation of all men. … There is no ground for the supposition that the expression was intended to refer to God’s decretive will” (page 113).

    “We have found that God himself expresses an ardent desire for the fulfillment of certain things which he has not decreed in his inscrutable counsel to come to pass. This means that there is a will to the realization of what he has not decretively willed, a pleasure towards that which he has not been pleased to decree. This is indeed mysterious, and why he has not brought to pass, in the exercise of his omnipotent power and grace, what is his ardent pleasure lies hidden in the sovereign counsel of his will” (page 131).

    John Murray also said the following in the article “The Atonement and the Free Offer of the Gospel” in the first volume of his collected writings:

    “… an atonement construed as providing the possibility of salvation or the opportunity of salvation does not supply the basis required for what constitutes the gospel offer. It is not the opportunity of salvation that is offered; it is salvation. And it is salvation because Christ is offered and Christ does not invite us to mere opportunity but to himself” (page 83).

    In hyper-Calvinism, God desires the salvation of only the elect in any sense. In Arminianism, God desires the salvation of all men equally. In Amyraldianism, God sent Jesus to die for all men equally but enables only the elect to believe. I view all of these as illegitimate efforts to get rid of some degree of the mystery which Dr. Murray mentions above. I believe that Jesus’ atonement is a ransom price more than valuable enough to redeem all humanity. I believe that Jesus died as a penal substitute only for the elect and died to redeem only the elect. I can say to the lost, “God commands you to trust in Christ for salvation and desires that you do so.” I can’t say indiscriminately to the lost, “Jesus died in your place as your legal substitute.”

  5. Grover, with all due respect, you are simply not addressing the specific points that I have raised, and thus we are going back and forth here needlessly. For example, you wrote:

    I agree with the statement of the Synod of Dordt: “This death of God’s Son is … of infinite value and worth, more than sufficient to atone for the sins of the whole world.”… Thus the infinitely valuable atoning work of Jesus is necessary to save one sinner and yet also sufficient to save all humanity. In this view, the atonement has a limited design (to save the elect) and an unlimited intrinsic value.

    I’ve already acknowledged that Christ’s death was “infinitely valuable” in itself (i.e., considered apart from God’s purpose), so I’m not sure how this relates to anything I’ve written so far. The point in question is whether the unlimited intrinsic value of Christ’s death actually “atoned” for the sins of the non-elect and “redeemed” them from the curse of the law? The only Biblical and Confessional answer is that it did not — Christ’s sacrificial death on Calvary only “atoned” for the sins of the elect and “redeemed” them from the curse of the law. Why? Because only the sins of the elect were “imputed” to Christ. Christ’s death cannot be sufficient to save those whose sins He did not “bear” and whose penalty He did not “pay” (since it’s already an accomplished fact of history), regardless of how intrinsically valuable it was. Thus, the free offer of the gospel cannot be grounded upon the “infinite” value of Christ’s death, as if it could somehow save the non-elect if they would only believe.

    Some Calvinists do disagree with Dordt and believe that the intrinsic value of the atonement is finite. In this view, Christ suffered enough to pay for the sins of the elect but not enough to pay for one additional sin. If more sins had been imputed to Him, then He would have had to suffer more in order to pay for them; if less, then less. In this view, the atonement has a limited design and a limited intrinsic value as well.

    That is certainly not my position. As I explained above, my position is that Christ’s death cannot be sufficient to save those whose sins He did not “bear” and whose penalty He did not “pay” (since the atonement is already an accomplished fact of history) regardless of how intrinsically valuable it was. However, out of curiosity, who are these Calvinists that teach a “limited intrinsic value” for Christ’s death? I’ve never heard that position espoused myself.

    I believe that Jesus’ atonement is a ransom price more than valuable enough to redeem all humanity. I believe that Jesus died as a penal substitute only for the elect and died to redeem only the elect.

    Here’s the crux of the problem. The “ransom price” that was actually paid by Christ’s atoning death is equal to the number of people that He actually “redeemed.” The fact that He could have paid a “ransom price” for all humanity is beside the point. He only paid a “ransom price” that “redeemed” the elect. By way of analogy, if I “redeem” 10 slaves in order to set them free, it makes no difference that I was wealthy enough to pay the “ransom price” to set 10,000 slaves free. The fact is that I only “purchased” or “redeemed” or paid the “ransom price” to set 10 slaves free.

    I can say to the lost, “God commands you to trust in Christ for salvation and desires that you do so.” I can’t say indiscriminately to the lost, “Jesus died in your place as your legal substitute.”

    I can see how you can say to the lost, “God commands you to trust in Christ for salvation and will hold you accountable if you disobey.” But I don’t see how you can say that God “desires” you to do so. God’s “desire” is always related to His decretive will in Scripture, and He quite often “desires” the exact opposite of what He commands:

    God repeatedly commanded Pharaoh to let the Israelites go, yet Scripture plainly records the Lord saying, “But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go” (Ex 4:21). God’s “desire” was to harden Pharaoh’s heart in order to cause him to disobey His command. Why? “‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.’ So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires” (Rom 9:17-18).

    While Chorazin and Bethsaida were commanded to repent and believe that Jesus was the Christ, Jesus rebuked them for their unbelief by saying, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight” (Matt 11:25-26). God commanded them to repent, yet it was His “desire” to blind them to the truth and cause them to disobey His command.

    Again, referring to those Jews who refused to comply with God’s command to repent and believe, Jesus said, “He [God] has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, lest they should see with their eyes, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them” (Jn 12:40).

    To say that God “desired” for these people to “trust in Christ for salvation” blatantly contradicts Scripture. Therefore, the most we can tell a lost soul is that God “commands” you to repent and believe on Christ for salvation, and that He will hold you “accountable” with eternal punishment in Hell if you refuse to do so. But we have no warrant to tell him that God “desires” him to believe, for he very well may be one of those non-elect people whom God “desires” (Rom 9:18) to harden in unbelief.

  6. I don’t have the book with me here, but I believe William Cunningham refers to the finite value view on that page I mentioned in his work earlier. I first encountered this view a few decades ago when reading an excellent book by Tom Nettles on the history of Calvinism among Baptists. If I remember correctly, he was referring to the theology of John Gill.

    As to the sense in which God desires obedience to the gospel, I think we will have to agree to disagree. I would recommend the articles on the free offer by John Murray which I mentioned previously, especially the one in volume 4. He deals with this question extensively.

    The following is in the Canons of Dordt:

    “Nevertheless, all who are called through the gospel are called seriously. For seriously and most genuinely God makes known in his Word what is pleasing to him: that those who are called should come to him. Seriously he also promises rest for their souls and eternal life to all who come to him and believe.”

    I also highly recommend the book Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism: The Battle for Gospel Preaching by Iain H. Murray. I will close with a few quotations from it:

    “This still does not answer the question, How can sinners be offered a salvation which Christ did not fulfill on their behalf? Spurgeon set that question aside as something which God has not chosen to explain.” page 74

    “Spurgeon regarded the denial of God’s desire for the salvation of all men as no mere theoretical mistake. For it converged with one of the greatest obstacles to faith on the part of the unconverted, that is to say, a wrong view of the character of God.” page 90

    “He refused to explain how men could be held accountable for not trusting in a Saviour in whom they were never chosen, on the grounds that Scripture itself offers no explanation.” page 99

  7. I am at home now and can give you the quotation from William Cunningham, Historical Theology, 2:131:

    “There have been some Calvinists who have contended that Christ’s sufferings were just as much, in amount or extent, as were sufficient for redeeming, or paying the ransom price of the elect, — of those who are actually saved; so that, if more men had been to be pardoned and saved, Christ must have suffered more than He did, and if fewer, less. But those who have held this view have been very few in number, and of no great weight or influence. The opinion, however, is one which the advocates of universal atonement are fond of adducing and refuting, because it is easy to refute it; and because this is fitted to convey the impression that the advocates of a limited atonement in general hold his, or something like it, and thus to insinuate an unfavourable idea of the doctrine. There is no doubt that all the most eminent Calvinistic divines hold the infinite worth or value of Christ’s atonement, — its full sufficiency for expiating all the sins of all men.”

  8. Hi Grover,

    Thank you for your latest response and for the additional information. I’ll have to look into John Gill’s position more carefully when I can find the time. But I’ve read quite a bit of his work and don’t recall anything resembling this position being advocated by him. I also believe that those who accuse him of being a “hyper Calvinist” are simply incorrect or disingenuous at best. I simply don’t see it (even though I do disagree with him on a number of issues, most particularly his baptist position on baptism).

    If you don’t mind, I would like to comment a little further on a few of the points you have raised. However, I won’t be able to get to it for a couple of days, as I will be working overtime. I’m content to simply agree to disagree, but I would like to explain the reasons why I disagree a little further. Take care.

    In Christ,
    Roger

  9. I appreciate the thoughtful interaction, Roger.

    I certainly agree with you that God is sovereign. Regarding the free offer, I am referring to a desire rooted in God’s preceptive will, not in His decretive will. The relevant questions are, Are the non-elect responsible to obey the gospel command? Does God in any sense desire their obedience? Is God in any sense grieved by their disobedience?

    Both Arminianism and hyper-Calvinism are based on the philosophical assumption that there can be no moral responsibility where there is no moral ability. The Arminian argues that since all men are responsible to obey the gospel, all men have the moral ability to do so. The hyper-Calvinist argues that since God does not in sovereign grace grant the non-elect the moral ability to obey the gospel command, then the non-elect must not be responsible to do so. Therefore, the gospel command is not intended for the non-elect, and therefore God does not desire their obedience to it in any sense. Calvinism as I understand it teaches that all who hear the gospel are responsible to obey it through faith; that God always in some sense desires obedience to his revealed will, even when that is not what He has decreed to happen; that gospel disobedience is always the sinner’s failure for which he and not God is responsible; and that we can’t intellectually tie up all the loose ends in terms of our limited creaturely understanding without distorting some aspect of God’s revelation.

    I found an article on the Internet which mentions John Gill and the finite value view. See http://www.biblebb.com/files/MAC/SC03-1027.htm

  10. The following is in the Canons of Dordt:

    “Nevertheless, all who are called through the gospel are called seriously. For seriously and most genuinely God makes known in his Word what is pleasing to him: that those who are called should come to him. Seriously he also promises rest for their souls and eternal life to all who come to him and believe.”

    I agree with this passage. But it doesn’t even remotely suggest that God has some sort of an unfulfilled “desire” that the non-elect comply with His command. It simply states that “God makes known in his Word what is pleasing to him: that those who are called should [or ought to] come to him [as a matter of duty or obligation].” There’s no doubt that the “preceptive will” reveals what is pleasing or delightful to God, or that repentance and faith are things pleasing to God. But Scripture does not teach that the precept indicates a “delight,” “pleasure,” “wish,” “desire” or any other volitional quality within God to the actual repentance of every man. That notion destroys the simplicity of God’s will. The unity of God’s will is found in the fact that the preceptive will reveals that God delights in the salvation of repentant sinners, while God’s decretive will has sovereignly determined which sinners will be granted repentance. Between the delight of God’s precept and the will of His decree there is a most perfect and consummate harmony.

    Moreover, as I’ve previously pointed out, any suggestion that God “desires” the non-elect to comply with His commands (i.e., the “preceptive will”) is flatly contradicted by numerous passages of Scripture (e.g., Ex. 4:21; Matt. 11:25-26; Jn. 12:40; Rom. 9:17-18; 11:8). How can any rational person conclude that God “wants” or “desires” the non-elect to obey His command to repent and believe, when Scripture plainly declares the following?

    God has given them a spirit of stupor, eyes that they should not see and ears that they should not hear, to this very day.” (Rom. 11:8)

    “And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” (2 Thes. 2:11-12)

    God’s “desire” in these passages is quite clearly that the non-elect disobey His commands (i.e., the “preceptive will”). This is the irrefutable teaching of Scripture. Calvin Himself points this out:

    Nor can it be questioned, that God sends his word to many whose blindness he is pleased to aggravate. For why does he order so many messages to be taken to Pharaoh? Was it because he hoped that he might be softened by the repetition? Nay, before he began he both knew and had foretold the result: “The Lord said unto Moses, When thou goest to return into Egypt see that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand: but I will harden his heart, that he will not let the people go,” (Exod. 4:21)… But the prophecy of Isaiah presses still more closely; for he is thus commissioned by the Lord, “Go and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not, and see ye indeed but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert and be healed,” (Isa. 6:9, 10). Here he directs his voice to them, but it is that they may turn a deafer ear; he kindles a light, but it is that they may become more blind; he produces a doctrine, but it is that they may be more stupid; he employs a remedy, but it is that they may not be cured. And John, referring to this prophecy, declares that the Jews could not believe the doctrine of Christ, because this curse from God lay upon them. It is also incontrovertible, that to those whom God is not pleased to illumine, he delivers his doctrine wrapped up in enigmas, so that they may not profit by it, but be given over to greater blindness. Hence our Savior declares that the parables in which he had spoken to the multitude he expounded to the Apostles only, “because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given,” (Mt. 13:11). (Institutes, 3.24.13)

    Calvin then goes on to explain whether God’s “preceptive will” is at odds with or contradicts His “decretive will” — as if He “desires” that the non-elect obey His commands, while at the same time He “desires” that they disobey His commands:

    But if it is so (you will say), little faith can be put in the Gospel promises, which, in testifying concerning the will of God, declare that he wills what is contrary to his inviolable decree. Not at all; for however universal the promises of salvation may be, there is no discrepancy between them and the predestination of the reprobate, provided we attend to their effect. We know that the promises are effectual only when we receive them in faith, but, on the contrary, when faith is made void, the promise is of no effect. If this is the nature of the promises, let us now see whether there be any inconsistency between the two things—viz. that God, by an eternal decree, fixed the number of those whom he is pleased to embrace in love, and on whom he is pleased to display his wrath, and that he offers salvation indiscriminately to all. I hold that they are perfectly consistent, for all that is meant by the promise is, just that his mercy is offered to all who desire and implore it, and this none do, save those whom he has enlightened. Moreover, he enlightens those whom he has predestinated to salvation. Thus the truth of the promise remains firm and unshaken, so that it cannot be said there is any disagreement between the eternal election of God and the testimony of his grace which he offers to believers… They object that nothing is less accordant with the nature of God than that he should have a double will. This I concede [i.e., that God does not have a “double will” — RM], provided they are sound interpreters. But why do they not attend to the many passages in which God clothes himself with human affections, and descends beneath his proper majesty? He says, “I have spread out my hands all the day unto a rebellious people,” (Isa. 65:1), exerting himself early and late to bring them back. Were they to apply these qualities without regarding the figure, many unnecessary disputes would arise which are quashed by the simple solution, that what is human is here transferred to God. Indeed, the solution which we have given elsewhere (see Book 1, c. 18, sec. 3; and Book 3, c. 20, sec. 43) is amply sufficient—viz. that though to our apprehension the will of God is manifold, yet he does not in himself will opposites, but, according to his manifold wisdom (so Paul styles it, Eph. 3:10), transcends our senses, until such time as it shall be given us to know how he mysteriously wills what now seems to be adverse to his will. (Institutes, 3.24.17)

    Thus Calvin clearly refutes the idea of a duplicity of wills in God as a basis for doctrine. God does not have a “double will” or “in himself will opposites.” There is and can be no contradiction within the will of God, or between God’s will of delight and His decree. God’s decree, after all, is God willing His “eternal good pleasure” or delight.

    The preceptive will can be called God’s will only in a metaphorical sense. The preceptive will is not God within Himself (ad-infra) “willing” as a rule for His own actions, but what God “wills” to reveal outside Himself (ad-extra) as the rule for the creature’s actions. There is a clear difference between the two. The preceptive will terminates outside God’s essence as that which He actively wills to require of man, while the decretive will abides within Himself as His living will in regard to His own actions.

    All that can rightly be deduced from God’s preceptive will is that God is pleased to command faith and repentance to sinners as the only way of salvation. The preceptive will is that which God has given as the duty of man, not His own purpose. The will of decree, having to do with what God Himself will do as sovereign Creator and Saviour can never be resisted, whereas the will of precept, having to do with God’s moral requirements as the duty of man, can be and often is resisted by sinful man. Whether God Himself wills an action of man in fulfillment or non-fulfillment of the command can not be determined from the preceptive will itself. The preceptive will tells us only what it pleases God to propose as man’s duty.

    The pleasure of God can be, but is not necessarily in the personal fulfillment of the preceptive will. When God’s preceptive will is called His “delight,” Scripture means nothing more than the mere complacency by which God approves anything as just and holy and delights in it (and besides, wills to prescribe it to the creature as His most just duty). Hence it does not properly include any decree of volition in God, but implies only the agreement of the thing with the nature of God (according to which He cannot but love what is agreeable to His holiness).

    The delight of God, therefore, is in the precept as a thing “pleasing” in itself. In this sense God is said to “delight in it.” The action of the creature that conforms to the precept is incidental to God’s delight in the precept itself. God’s active delight in the person fulfilling the precept is coincident, and wholly dependent upon God by His Spirit regenerating and working in the sinner both to will and to do of His good pleasure. It is thus coincident only when God’s decree determines that God by irresistible grace makes it so. In other words, God works faith and repentance graciously and irresistibly in the heart of the elect sinner according to the decree of election, so that the purpose of God and the fulfilling of the precept meet in the grace of Christ Jesus, by which grace, faith and repentance are alone made possible. It is in this sense that God is said to delight in the actions of men that conform to His preceptive will. Therefore, this delight of God in precept and person can never be apart from the mediation and imputed righteousness of Christ through faith. “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Heb. 11:6).

    The relevant questions are, Are the non-elect responsible to obey the gospel command?

    Yes, they are “responsible” to obey the gospel command, for God “requires” their obedience and will hold them “accountable” when they do not obey — even when He personally sends them “strong delusion, that they should believe the lie” (2 Thes. 2:11), and has “blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, lest they should see with their eyes, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them” (Jn. 12:40). Our “responsibility” is rooted in God’s determination to hold us “accountable” for disobeying His commands, not our “ability” to obey His commands — and certainly not God’s “desire” that we obey His commands, as the above scriptures clearly demonstrate.

    Does God in any sense desire their obedience?

    No, for if He “desired” their obedience, He would grant them repentance and faith and cause them to obey. For the sovereign Lord “works all things according to the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11). “He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires” (Rom. 9:18).

    Is God in any sense grieved by their disobedience?

    I don’t believe so, for Scripture reveals that God “hates” (Psalm 5:5; 11:5; Mal. 1:3; Rom. 9:13) the non-elect for their wickedness, even though He is the very One who causes their disobedience in accordance with His sovereign will and good-pleasure to do so:

    “‘If one man sins against another, God will judge him. But if a man sins against the Lord, who will intercede for him?’ Nevertheless they did not heed the voice of their father, because the Lord desired to kill them.” (1 Sam. 2:25)

    “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight” (Matt 11:25-26).

    God commanded them to repent, yet it was His “desire” to blind them to the truth and cause them to disobey His command — for this way was “well-pleasing” in His sight!

    In closing, I’d like to revisit a few things I wrote earlier, regarding the unlimited intrinsic value of Christ’s death and the free offer of the gospel, for I do not believe you have answered them as of yet. I wrote:

    The point in question is whether the unlimited intrinsic value of Christ’s death actually “atoned” for the sins of the non-elect and “redeemed” them from the curse of the law? The only Biblical and Confessional answer is that it did not — Christ’s sacrificial death on Calvary only “atoned” for the sins of the elect and “redeemed” them from the curse of the law. Why? Because only the sins of the elect were “imputed” to Christ. Christ’s death cannot be sufficient to save those whose sins He did not “bear” and whose penalty He did not “pay” (since it’s already an accomplished fact of history), regardless of how intrinsically valuable it was. Thus, the free offer of the gospel cannot be grounded upon the “infinite” value of Christ’s death, as if it could somehow save the non-elect if they would only believe.

    You also wrote, “I believe that Jesus’ atonement is a ransom price more than valuable enough to redeem all humanity.” My response was:

    Here’s the crux of the problem. The “ransom price” that was actually paid by Christ’s atoning death is equal to the number of people that He actually “redeemed.” The fact that He could have paid a “ransom price” for all humanity (since his death is “infinite” in value) is beside the point. He only paid a “ransom price” that “redeemed” the elect. By way of analogy, if I “redeem” 10 slaves in order to set them free, it makes no difference that I was wealthy enough to pay the “ransom price” to set 10,000 slaves free. The fact is that I only “purchased” or “redeemed” or paid the “ransom price” to set 10 slaves free.

    If you would please address these specific points, I would very much appreciate it.

    Sorry for being so long-winded, but I felt that an extended explanation was called for at this point, else we continue to talk past one another. Thank you once again for your willingness to discuss these matters with me.

    In Christ,
    Roger

  11. Thank you, Roger.

    The Canons of Dordt statement that God is pleased that those who are called should come refers to pleasure in obedience to the command and not merely to pleasure in the command itself.

    The following is from Calvin’s commentary on Matthew 23:37:

    For since by his word he calls all men indiscriminately to salvation, and since the end of preaching is, that all should betake themselves to his guardianship and protection, it may justly be said that he wills to gather all to himself. It is not, therefore, the secret purpose of God, but his will, which is manifested by the nature of the word, that is here described; for, undoubtedly, whomsoever he efficaciously wills to gather, he inwardly draws by his Spirit, and does not merely invite by the outward voice of man. If it be objected, that it is absurd to suppose the existence of two wills in God, I reply, we fully believe that his will is simple and one; but as our minds do not fathom the deep abyss of secret election, in accommodation to the capacity of our weakness, the will of God is exhibited to us in two ways.

    Here is an article by John Piper defending this view of the free offer:

    http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Articles/ByDate/1995/1580_Are_There_Two_Wills_in_God/

    Here is an article by Robert Dabney arguing for the same: http://www.spurgeon.org/~phil/dabney/mercy.htm

    Here is a quotation from Dabney’s article:

    That there is a just distinction between God’s decretive and preceptive will, no thoughtful person can deny. But let the question be stated thus: Do all the solemn and tender entreaties of God to sinners express no more, as to the non-elect, than a purpose in God, uncompassionate and merely rectoral, to acquit himself of his legislative function towards them? To speak after the manner of men, have all these apparently touching appeals after all no heart in them? We cannot but deem it an unfortunate logic which constrains a man to this view of them. How much more simple and satisfactory to take them for just what they express?—evidences of a true compassion, which yet is restrained, in the case of the unknown class, the non-elect, by consistent and holy reasons, from taking the form of a volition to regenerate.

    May God bless!
    Grover

  12. The Canons of Dordt statement that God is pleased that those who are called should come refers to pleasure in obedience to the command and not merely to pleasure in the command itself.

    Yes, I explained precisely that point in my answer. I wrote:

    I agree with this passage. But it doesn’t even remotely suggest that God has some sort of an unfulfilled “desire” that the non-elect comply with His command. It simply states that “God makes known in his Word what is pleasing to him: that those who are called should [or ought to] come to him [as a matter of duty or obligation].” There’s no doubt that the “preceptive will” reveals what is pleasing or delightful to God, or that repentance and faith are things pleasing to God. But Scripture does not teach that the precept indicates a “delight,” “pleasure,” “wish,” “desire” or any other volitional quality within God to the actual repentance of every man. That notion destroys the simplicity of God’s will.

    Thus I never insinuated that God does not take pleasure “in obedience to the command.” It most certainly “pleases” the Lord when His elect people exercise their God-given faith unto salvation by obeying His command to believe (His preceptive will). What I deny (and you have failed to address) is that God has some sort of an unfulfilled “desire” that the non-elect obey His command. I even cited numerous scriptures that explicitly teach that it is God’s “desire” for the non-elect to disobey His commands, which you appear to have simply ignored.

    Again, the preceptive will only tells us what the Lord has been pleased to propose as man’s duty. It merely tells us “that those who are called should [or ought to] come to him [as a matter of duty or obligation].” It tells us nothing about what God Himself actually “desires” to be accomplished in the life of any particular person. Whether God Himself wills an action of man in fulfillment or non-fulfillment of the command cannot be determined from the preceptive will itself. The preceptive will merely tells us what the Lord has been pleased to propose as man’s duty.

    Regarding Calvin’s quote on Matthew 23:37, I fail to see how this passage contradicts anything I’ve written (or the section of the Institutes that I’ve cited). Indeed, Calvin is clearly making the very same distinction that I have been making — that the “will” of God spoken of here is God’s “preceptive will,” that which He has been pleased to propose as man’s duty, what we “should” or ought to do. For instance, he writes:

    The will of God, which is here mentioned, must be judged from the result [which in this instance fails to come to pass]. For since by his word [by His precept or command] he calls all men indiscriminately to salvation, and since the end of preaching is, that all should [or ought as a matter of duty or obligation] betake themselves to his guardianship and protection, it may justly be said that he wills [preceptively wills] to gather all to himself.

    So far, Calvin is simply explaining God’s “preceptive will,” that which He has been pleased to propose as man’s duty, what we “should” or ought to do. This is in complete harmony with what I have been saying. He then goes on to say:

    It is not, therefore, the secret purpose of God [His decretive will, what God Himself actually “desires” to be done], but his will [preceptive will], which is manifested by the nature of the word, that is here described; for, undoubtedly, whomsoever he efficaciously wills [decretively wills] to gather, he inwardly draws by his Spirit, and does not merely invite by the outward voice of man [proclaiming His preceptive will].

    Again, this is in complete harmony with what I have been saying. It is God’s preceptive will (what we “should” or ought to do) that is being described here, not God’s decretive will (His “desire” for what will be fulfilled in the life of any particular person). As I mentioned before, whether God Himself wills an action of man in fulfillment or non-fulfillment of the command cannot be determined from the preceptive will itself. The preceptive will merely tells us what the Lord has been pleased to propose as man’s duty. Calvin concludes by saying:

    If it be objected, that it is absurd to suppose the existence of two wills in God [that are in opposition to one another], I reply, we fully believe that his will is simple and one [which is contrary to the position that God “desires” and does not “desire” the salvation of the non-elect at one and the same time]; but as our minds do not fathom the deep abyss of secret election, in accommodation to the capacity of our weakness, the will of God is exhibited to us in two ways [not that He actually has two conflicting “desires”]. And I am astonished at the obstinacy of some people, who, when in many passages of Scripture they meet with that figure of speech which attributes to God human feelings, take no offense, but in this case alone refuse to admit it [such as the proponents of an unfulfilled “longing,” “wishing,” or “desire” in God’s preceptive will are doing]. But as I have elsewhere treated this subject fully, that I may not be unnecessarily tedious, I only state briefly that, whenever the doctrine [the preceptive will], which is the standard of union, is brought forward, God [preceptively] wills to gather all [by publishing what ought to be done], that all who do not come may be inexcusable.

    Once again, this is in complete harmony with what I have been saying. Calvin makes it quite clear that the free offer of the gospel [God’s preceptive will] is published to all men, so “that all who do not come [the non-elect] may be inexcusable,” not because God has some sort of unfulfilled “desire” that they actually obey the command and come to Him.

    Sorry, but only the Arminian god has unfulfilled “desires” within his being, not the one true sovereign God of Scripture — Who “does according to His will [whatsoever He “desires”] in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth” (Dan. 4:35). Calvin was absolutely correct when he said that “it is absurd to suppose the existence of two wills in God [that are in opposition to one another].” Indeed, the notion that there are two contrary “wills” or “desires” within the being of God [that God “desires” and does not “desire” the salvation of the non-elect at one and the same time] is “absurd.”

    You quote Dabney as saying:

    Do all the solemn and tender entreaties of God to sinners express no more, as to the non-elect, than a purpose in God, uncompassionate and merely rectoral, to acquit himself of his legislative function towards them? To speak after the manner of men, have all these apparently touching appeals after all no heart in them?

    According to Calvin they are published by God in the preaching of the gospel, so “that all who do not come [the non-elect] may be inexcusable,” not because God has some sort of unfulfilled “desire” that they actually obey the command and come to Him.

    Moreover, Dabney is clearly wrong here, for the simple fact that God uses the publication of the gospel for the purpose of “hardening” and “blinding” the non-elect to its truth, as I’ve demonstrated many times now. After all, when Scripture says that God sends the non-elect “strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned” (2 Thes. 2:11-12), and has “blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts” (Jn. 12:40), is that “evidence of a true compassion” in God for the non-elect (as Dabney boldly asserts)? Or is it more in line with the position that Calvin and I have been maintaining? The question hardly needs to be answered.

    In Christ,
    Roger

  13. I think we agree on this principle that we can go only so far in our efforts to understand the will of God. I think we disagree on exactly where to draw the line between the comprehensible and the incomprehensible. We step over the line the moment our deduction from one revealed truth compromises or contradicts another revealed truth. I think you have stepped over the line in some of your deductions, and you think I haven’t gone far enough in refusing to make those deductions. We both believe in God’s sovereign decretive will. We both believe in God’s preceptive will of command. I believe God in some sense (but not in a decretive sense) desires obedience to His commands even when He has decreed otherwise. I believe this not based on some philosophical deduction but because of certain verses in the Bible. You believe that God desires obedience in such cases in no sense and interpret these verses accordingly.

    Whenever I sin, I believe God is grieved with my disobedience in some sense even though my disobedience was the outworking of God’s decretive will. When God commanded me not to steal, and then I stole in disobedience to God’s command, I believe there was a sense in which God desired me not to steal. This is not God’s willing two contradictory things in the same sense because one is rooted in the decretive aspect of God’s will and the other is rooted in the preceptive aspect of God’s will. Do you really disagree with that?

    I am at the point where I have nothing more to say except what I have already said.

    Thank you for the discussion.

    May God bless!
    Grover

  14. We step over the line the moment our deduction from one revealed truth compromises or contradicts another revealed truth.

    Yes, and I would assert that your deduction that God “desires” the non-elect to obey His preceptive will is invalid (it doesn’t “necessarily” follow), and it blatantly contradicts the numerous passages of Scripture which teach that God “desires” the non-elect to disobey His preceptive will by “blinding their eyes and hardening their hearts” to the truth of the gospel. As I mentioned before, if God truly wanted or “desired” the non-elect to be saved, He would have chosen them for salvation, imputed their sins to Christ, and caused them to obey His preceptive will by believing the gospel message. He did not do so. Therefore, He does not “desire” their salvation.

    This is not God’s willing two contradictory things in the same sense because one is rooted in the decretive aspect of God’s will and the other is rooted in the preceptive aspect of God’s will. Do you really disagree with that?

    Yes, I “really disagree with that,” as does Calvin and most of the other early Reformed theologians. Once you posit a “desire” to the preceptive will, you make it an unfulfilled volitional aspect of God’s will within Himself (ad infra) that is blatantly contradictory to His decretive will within Himself (ad infra). You can’t have two contradictory “desires” within God’s being without destroying the simplicity of His will and making Him schizophrenic.

    As I mentioned earlier, the preceptive will can be called God’s will only in a metaphorical sense. The preceptive will is not God within Himself (ad-infra) “willing” as a rule for His own actions, but what God “wills” to reveal outside Himself (ad-extra) as the rule for the creature’s actions. There is a clear difference between the two. The preceptive will terminates outside God’s essence as that which He actively wills to require of man, while the decretive will abides within Himself as His living will in regard to His own actions.

    In the analogy you gave of yourself stealing, God “desired” for you to steal (since that is what He providentially caused you to do), even though He “commanded” you not to steal. God’s “command” not to steal is what He has “willed” to reveal outside Himself (ad extra) as the rule for your actions, not what He “desired” or “willed” within Himself (ad infra) for you to actually do. This is the only view that harmonizes the biblical evidence and maintains the simplicity of God’s will.

    Thank you once again for the discussion. It has been very interesting. May God continue to bless you and your family!

    In Christ,
    Roger

  15. Tonight I found on the Internet a translation of the Formula Consensus Helvetica provided by R. Scott Clark and used by permission of the translator.

    http://www.wscal.edu/clark/helveticformula.php

    Canon XIX deals with the “external call,” and I believe this statement is relevant to the free offer of the gospel.

    Since the Formula Consensus Helvetica was written by Francis Turretin, I decided to see what I can find in his Institutes. Turretin deals with Amyraldianism in the fourth topic, seventeenth question (1.395 ff). I think the paragraph most relevant to the free offer is Topic 4, Question 17, Paragraph VIII. on page 1.397.

  16. I found some other relevant quotations from Turretin’s Institutes on the Internet:

    http://members.aol.com/rsiworship/will1.html

  17. Earlier I wrote:

    Once you posit a “desire” to the preceptive will, you make it an unfulfilled volitional aspect of God’s will within Himself (ad infra) that is blatantly contradictory to His decretive will within Himself (ad infra). You can’t have two contradictory “desires” within God’s being without destroying the simplicity of His will and making Him schizophrenic.

    I believe Turretin makes essentially this same point in the following quote [words in brackets are mine]:

    8. Besides this distinction [between the decretive and preceptive will], there is another by which it is distributed into the will of eudokia and euarestia, often used by Theologians: The will of eudokia [good pleasure] answers to the decretive, that of euarestia [approbation] to the preceptive…

    11. Euarestia contradistinguished from eudokia in this connection means nothing else than the mere complacency, by which God approves anything as just and holy and delights in it, and besides wills to prescribe it to the creature as his most just duty: Whence it does not properly include any decree or volition [such as a “desire” would be] in God, but implies only the agreement of the thing with the nature of God, according to which he cannot but love what is agreeable to his holiness: For the approbation of anything is not forthwith his volition; nor if I approve a thing, should I therefore immediately will it. So it is less properly called the will of God.

    12. Although to the will of euarestia belong also the promises of giving salvation to believers, which are proposed with the Gospel precept; it does not follow that it ought to connote any condition, decree or volition properly so called, concerning the giving of salvation to all: for such a decree cannot consist with the decree of reprobation, nor with the wisdom of God, to which it is repugnant to will anything under an impossible condition, and which God, who alone can give it, himself has decreed to withhold from the creature; but from this we can only gather, that there is an inseparable connection between faith and salvation: So the promises added to the precepts signify only what God will grant believers and penitents, not what he wills [or “desires”] to grant to all those to whom the precept is proposed. (Turretin, Theological Institutes: Selections. T. 3, Q. 15, S. 8, 11-12)

  18. Thank you, Roger. If you will read the last paragraph in the Turretin quotations, you will see the use of the word “desire” to refer to the preceptive will or the will of command. This seems to be the word which has divided us. I have said that it is not contradictory for God to will preceptively with one sort of desire what he has not willed decretively with a different sort of desire.

    See Samuel Rutherford at the same URL where he refers to “a vehemency and a serious and unfeigned ardency of desire that we do what is our duty.” He then makes clear, as I have tried to, that he was not referring to any decretive will for the salvation of the non-elect. Follow the links at the bottom of the page, and see the second quotation from John Flavel (“His sorrows and mourning upon the account of the obstinacy and unbelief of sinners, speaks the vehemency of his desire after union with them”), the second quotation from Jonathan Edwards (“There is all in God that belongs to our desire of the holiness and happiness of unconverted men and reprobates, excepting what implies imperfection.”), Robert Murray M’Cheyne (“The whole Bible shows that Christ is quite willing and anxious that all sinners should come to him.”), J.I. Packer (“And God in the gospel expresses a bona fide wish that all may hear, and that all who hear may believe and be saved.”).

  19. If you will read the last paragraph in the Turretin quotations, you will see the use of the word “desire” to refer to the preceptive will or the will of command. This seems to be the word which has divided us.

    Yes, I noticed that. All I can conclude is that the Latin word translated as “desire” here doesn’t necessarily connote an unfulfilled “volition” in God (such as wanting, wishing, desiring, or longing for does), or else Turretin was simply being inconsistent here and contradicting other things he wrote. For it clearly doesn’t agree with the below statements by Turretin regarding God’s preceptive will or euarestia:

    Whence it does not properly include any decree or volition [such as “desire” does] in God, but implies only the agreement of the thing with the nature of God, according to which he cannot but love what is agreeable to his holiness: For the approbation of anything is not forthwith his volition; nor if I approve a thing, should I therefore immediately will it. So it is less properly called the will of God.

    Although to the will of euarestia belong also the promises of giving salvation to believers, which are proposed with the Gospel precept; it does not follow that it ought to connote any condition, decree or volition properly so called, concerning the giving of salvation to all: for such a decree cannot consist with the decree of reprobation, nor with the wisdom of God, to which it is repugnant to will anything under an impossible condition, and which God, who alone can give it, himself has decreed to withhold from the creature”

    Therefore, I agree with what Turretin says in the above statements, and disagree with the quote you have pointed to — that is, if it means that God possesses an unfulfilled “volition” such as wanting, wishing, desiring, or longing for something to happen that is contrary to His decree. God’s will is simple and immutable; He doesn’t have unfulfilled and conflicting “desires” within His being; God is not schizophrenic.

    I have said that it is not contradictory for God to will preceptively with one sort of desire what he has not willed decretively with a different sort of desire.

    Sorry, but the contradiction is not avoided by saying that God desires preceptively “with one sort of desire” what He has not willed decretively “with a different sort of desire.” For once you posit a volition such as “desire” in the preceptive will, you have God wanting or desiring the non-elect to “obey” and “disobey” His commands at the very same time. It results in two opposing “desires” within God’s being (ad infra), thus destroying the simplicity or unity of God’s will. It doesn’t result in God “desiring” something in two different senses; it results in God “desiring” two opposite things — that the non-elect “obey” and “disobey” His commands at the very same time — which is about as contradictory as it gets.

    In reality, since God’s will is one and simple, the preceptive will merely reveals what God has been pleased to “command” as our duty (what we ought to do), while the decretive will determines what God actually “desires” that we do — whether we “obey” or “disobey” His commands. That’s why the preceptive will can only be called God’s “will” in a metaphorical sense. His true “will” or what He actually “desires” to happen is manifested in His sovereign decree and providential control of all things.

  20. Some of the other quotations referred to ardent desires and wishes.

    Everything we know about God is to some degree metaphorical because it is a revelation of the eternal in terms of creaturely analogies designed by God when He created the cosmos to reflect His glory. God is knowable but incomprehensible.

    God’s will is simple as God experiences it. Yet we in our finitude can understand God’s will only in terms of God’s revelation to us which involves a prescriptive aspect and a decretive aspect. We have to accept in faith that this apparent division in God’s will as revealed to finite creatures is based on a reality in God’s simple, non-composite nature which would be apparent to us if we could rise above our creaturely finitude. The best discussion I have read on this is in Richard Muller’s volume on the divine attributes and essence in his series on Reformed scholasticism.

    http://www.amazon.com/Post-Reformation-Reformed-Dogmatics-Development-Orthodoxy/dp/0801026180/ref=sr_1_18?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1219870674&sr=1-18

    When someone experiences an apparent tragedy in this life, I tell them two things. First, what happened was God’s sovereign plan, and in terms of the big picture, God has a reason and purpose infintely greater than any pain we can experience. Second, if we focus narrowly on the evil involved in the tragedy, then God’s grief regarding that evil is infinitely beyond anything we can feel. I don’t believe the Bible requires me to say instead that God doesn’t share their sorrow and doesn’t emphathize with their pain because that would presuppose an unfulfilled desire in God. That would be a misleading pastoral theology rooted in a mixing of the implications of God’s decretive will with the implications of God’s prescriptive will.

  21. My two-cents and only because I think the same error underlying the heresy of the FV is repeated, even in somewhat less damning form, in the WMO.

    First, you confuse hyper-Murrayianism with hyper-Calvinism. I’m happy to say that I don’t follow Murray on this point. OTOH, you have not shown, at least not in what I’ve read above, that a rejection of the WMO is to somehow beyond Calvin or historic per-Vantillian Calvinism. The epithet “hyper-Calvinist” being applied to opposition to the incoherence of the WMO, your proverbial biblical “knot,” is pure abusive ad hominiem. Besides, Roger demonstrates quite clearly above from the Institutes that both you and Murray are the “hyper-Calvinists” in your adherence to the WMO.

    Second, Murray was wrong. God nowhere expresses an “ardent desire for the fulfillment of certain things which he has not decreed.” On this point, and as Reymond points out, Murray’s exegesis of critical passages (which, interestingly, was in response to the Clark controversy) imputes irrationality to God. Besides, and more to the point, you along with Murray make the age old logical blunder of inferring something in the indicative (i.e., God’s desire for the salvation of all) from something written in the imperative (God’s command for the promiscuous publishing of His Gospel and the associated command that all who hear believe) which cannot be done. This was a categorical error that Luther seized upon in his response to Erasmus in Bondage. Luther wrote:

    Even grammarians and schoolboys at street corners know that nothing is signified by verbs in the imperative mood than what ought to be done, and that what is done or can be done should be expressed by verbs in the indicative. How is it that you theologians are twice as stupid as schoolboys, in that as soon as you get hold of a simple imperative verb you infer an indicative meaning . . . ? (159).

    So, please tell me Pastor Gunn, why shouldn’t Luther’s condemnation be applied to theologians and PCA pastors who make the same logical blunder when attempting to infer a sincere and unfulfilled desire on the part of God for the salvation of all from the universal command that all believe?

  22. An ad hominem argument is an attack directed at a person rather than discussing the issue at hand. At least, that is how I use the term.

    It is unusual for someone opposed to the free offer to accuse a Calvinist who believes in the free offer of being a hyper-Calvinist. What is more common is for someone opposed to the free offer to accuse him of being an Arminian. Of course, I don’t agree with either accusation.

    I get the impression that you and I disagree on the relationship of the eternal to the finite. If that is the case, then we can do no other than to disagree on these secondary issues.

    The following is from Muller’s four volume work on seventeenth century Reformed Scholasticism:

    In theology itself, in the formulation of its language, even granting the rather direct sense of revelation found in the orthodox doctrine of Scripture, there can be no absolute grasp of the ultimate reality of the divine: theological language, at its best, is an ectypal reflection of the divine archetype, a finite and imperfect statement about an infinite and perfect being.
    3:204

    Granting this ontological and epistemological distance between the divine and the human — according to which even the word “nature” cannot be applied univocally to both and according to which the divine “nature,” which is non-composite or simple, can be known only in a composite way (i.e., in a way that does not correspond at all to the way in which it is in itself, but that corresponds to our way of enumerating and explaining attributes and persons) …
    3:212

    I agree with this seventeenth century Reformed approach and thus am open to theological mystery. I don’t regard God as irrational but regard my understanding of God as limited.

  23. Some of the other quotations referred to ardent desires and wishes.

    Yes, and I would assert that their statements are equally contradictory on this point. But that how does that answer my argument that God cannot have a “double will” or opposing “desires” due to the simplicity and immutability of His will? Better yet, how does it answer the irrefragable logic of John Owen:

    They [the Remonstrants] affirm that God is said properly to expect and desire divers things which yet never come to pass. ‘We grant,’ saith Corvinus, ‘that there are desires in God that never are fulfilled,’ Now, surely, to desire what one is sure will never come to pass is not an act regulated by wisdom or counsel; and, therefore, they must grant that before he did not know but perhaps so it might be. ‘God wisheth and desireth some good things, which yet come not to pass,’ say they, in their Confession; whence one of these two things must need follow, — either, first, that there is a great deal of imperfection in his nature, to desire and expect what he knows shall never come to pass; or else he did not know but it might, which overthrows his prescience. (The Works of John Owen, volume 10. The Banner of Truth Trust, 1967, 25.)

    Which of these two “options” set forth by Owen are you willing to own? Or are you actually content with maintaining the incoherent and illogical position espoused by the Remonstrants?

    Everything we know about God is to some degree metaphorical because it is a revelation of the eternal in terms of creaturely analogies designed by God when He created the cosmos to reflect His glory. God is knowable but incomprehensible.

    Everything that God has revealed in His word is comprehensible — meaning that we are fully capable of understanding the concepts proposed in Scripture. If our “theology” produces blatant contradictions, then we need to reexamine our exegesis and premises, for we have surely made a mistake.

    God’s will is simple as God experiences it. Yet we in our finitude can understand God’s will only in terms of God’s revelation to us which involves a prescriptive aspect and a decretive aspect. We have to accept in faith that this apparent division in God’s will as revealed to finite creatures is based on a reality in God’s simple, non-composite nature which would be apparent to us if we could rise above our creaturely finitude.

    There’s nothing “incomprehensible” here. God’s will is one and simple — He does not have a double will or opposing desires. The “preceptive will” is what God has commanded we ought to do as our duty, while the decretive will is what God “desires” we actually do through His sovereign providential control — whether to “obey” or “disobey” His commands. There’s nothing beyond our “creaturely finitude” here that we are incapable of understanding. Of course, to say that God “desires” that we “obey” and “disobey” His commands at the same time cannot be “comprehended,” but that’s because it is a blatant contradiction created by poor exegesis and invalid reasoning, not because Scripture teaches it.

    I’d like to make a few more observations about what you have said, but it will probably be a few days before I can find the time to respond. But I promise to get back to you.

  24. I believe God desires obedience to his revealed will in a sense which does not contradict his sovereign decretive will. You believe that any such desire necessarily contradicts God’s decretive will. As long as we have this root disagreement, we will keep going around in circles in our discussions. Your quotations are good, but they mostly deal with truths about God’s decretive will and don’t touch our disagreement. Thank you for the interaction, but I think enough has been said. I am ending this thread.


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