Friday, November 1, 2013

Distinctions in God's Will from a Calvinist Perspective



While God's will is ultimately unified and one, from our finite creaturely perspective I see five [now SIX] distinctions as a Calvinist. Usually Calvinists will refer to only two distinctions from our perspective. Namely, 1. God's Will of Decree and 2. God's Will of Demand, also called God's preceptive will [the two corresponding to #1 & #3 below]. Sometimes Calvinists make a third distinction (like R.C. Sproul) by adding God's Will of Disposition to the other two [corresponding to #1, #3 & #4 below].


GOD'S WILL OF:

1. DECREE

This refers to what God will infallibly do and will cause to inexorably come about (all things considered in His omniscience). This is His sovereign will whereby he predestines all things that come to pass. A classic exposition of this can be found in chapter 3 of the Westminster Confession of Faith (which can be read HERE, or HERE or HERE);

2. DEVICE (or intention, purpose) 

This will [God's will of Device or Purposive will] explains God's purposes for His decrees which may be multivalent (i.e. with multi-purposes and levels). I'm using the word "device" in the sense of plan or plot. Webster's online dictionary gives as one of the definitions of "device" as "something devised or contrived". So, for example, God may decree the exact same calamity on two different people yet for opposite purposes. In the one case it's an expression of divine retributive punishment and in the other a case of divine chastisement and remedial fatherly discipline for the believer's betterment and good. Job endured what he did for multiple purposes like to refine and purify his faith (like gold is refined); to make him an example for future believers; to demonstrate Job's righteousness; to demonstrate that even the most godly need continuous sanctification; to refute Satan. The multivalence of God's Will of Device may have multiple purposes and ends, both for the present time and for multiple future times. God's Will of Decree has to do with WHAT will happen. God's Will of Device explain WHY things will happen as they do. Often there are many "whys" and "reasons";
[[Previously I called this the "Will of Design," but I changed it to "Will of Device" because I wanted to make a 6th type of divine will that better lays claim to being called "Will of Design". The word "device" as I use it seems to be used in the same way in Thomas Brooks' well known book Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices [which can be accessed HERE or HERE]]]

3. DEMAND (or command, or prescriptive/preceptive will) 

This will has to do with what God reveals He expects of us (in obeying His commands, believing His promises/warnings, expecting answers to prayers etc.). Or as Charles Hodge defined it, "The preceptive will relates to the rule of duty for his [God's] rational creatures." These are general and universal expectations that depend on God's current covenant dealings with man. To summarize, this distinction of God's will refers to what God expects from us. This distinction of God's will includes God's commands like loving God and loving one's neighbor as oneself. I include in this will an additional aspect that I'm not sure other Calvinists include. I include what God would have us expect from Him as we stand upon His promises irrespective of God's will of decree and God's will of device (i.e. #1 & #2) since we normally don't know either of them. For example, concerning God's promises to save those who believe the Gospel message. Based on God's will of demand we can expect God to save us when we do believe the Gospel and trust Christ for salvation. Similarly, God's promises of sanctification can be brought to God's remembrance and stood upon in prayer. Based on God's will of demand [or prescriptive will], we can have confidence that God will answer our prayers for greater sanctification ;

4. DELIGHT (or as Sproul calls it "will of disposition", or dispositional will) 

This will refers to what God generally desires, or would like/prefer, or delights in "all things being equal." This will expresses and reflects God's natural goodness, kindness, generosity, munificence etc. Thomas Watson put it this way in his analogy of God being like bees, "The bee naturally gives honey, it stings only when it is provoked." An  example of God's Will of Delight is His desire that humans in general should believe in Christ, repent of their sins and be saved. Since they are made in God's image which has worth and value precisely because it is made in GOD'S image (and God is of infinite value);

5. DIRECTION (or directional will) 

This will, unlike #3 which have to do with general commands and expectations, has to do with specific (personally) given commands, expectations or directions not mentioned or covered by God's prescriptive will. For example, nowhere in the Scriptures (as they then existed) did it tell Hosea who he should marry (Hos. 1). Or whether David should save the city of Keilah by attacking the Philistines (1 Sam. 23). Or that Gideon should fight Israel's oppressors (Judges 6). In each case the believer in God received specific directions from God which were not covered by the general teaching and commands of Scripture (though they didn't contradict the Scriptures). If one is a cessationist, then this distinction of God's will would only make sense during Biblical times. However, if one is a continuationist (e.g. Pentecostal, Charismatic, Third Wave, open but cautious etc.) then this distinction in the will of God currently applies. And example of God's directional will was His command to Balaam not to go with the princes of Balak. But because Balaam was stubborn and unwilling to fully obey, God eventually allowed Balaam to go to Balak. So, in this instance God's directional will changed from "don't go" to "go." But God did this all the while knowing that He had previously purposed by His eternal unchanging decree that Balaam would eventually go to Balak. From Balaam's perspective, God's will of direction had changed even though God's Will of Decree and Will of Device never did (or does);

[This 6th type of divine will is has recently been added 8/29/2015]

6. DESIGN
This will refers to God's original design or blueprint. For example, God's original design in creation at the beginning was for humans to be healthy (by God's design). Cancer is a corruption and violation of this original "Will of Design" even though cancer can also be a manifestation God's Will of Decree and Will of Device. Because cancer or any other sickness is a violation of God's original Will of Design and Will of Delight we have Biblical and creational warrant to oppose and fight sickness using medicine, doctors, surgery, nutrition [etc.] and prayers for healing. Here's another example of God's creational will of design: God designed the human body to have two arms and two legs. Whenever infants are born with missing limbs that is a situation that is contrary to God's will of design and blueprint.

So, to repeat, the following are the different types of divine will that I can think of as a Calvinist:

1. God's WILL OF DECREE [also known as "sovereign will" or "decretive will of God"]
2. God's WILL OF DEVICE [AKA "purposive will"]
3. God's WILL OF DEMAND [AKA God's "preceptive will" or "prescriptive will"]
4. God's WILL OF DELIGHT [AKA God's "dispositional will," "will of disposition" or "will of desire"]
5. God's WILL OF DIRECTION
6. God's WILL OF DESIGN


Related Blogposts:

God in Relation to Law: Ex Lex, Sub Lego or Sibi Ipsi Lex

Three Kinds of Providence

Definitions of Chance [ 7 so far listed ]

External Links

 Are There Two Wills in God?: Divine Election and God's Desire for All to Be Saved by John Piper

The Will of God by R.C. Sproul



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