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11 Does God Have a Double Will?

It is astonishing that reasonable men can accept such an outrageous claim as John Piscador’s, “God does holily drive and thrust men on unto wickedness.”[1] 2 Corinthians 6:14 says, “[W]hat fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?” A righteous God cannot unite himself with unrighteousness. James said it this way in James 1:13–14, “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.” The God of the Bible cannot be tempted with evil and will never, contrary to Calvinist doctrine, tempt, drive, or cause man to sin.

 

If our God is holy, then He will never “drive and thrust” men unto wickedness. Such compulsion would be wicked and against the very nature of God. It is impossible to say that it is righteous, holy, and acceptable for God to compel men to do evil. It is a spiritual impossibility for God, who is light, to work the darkness of sin. Light and darkness are polar opposites, and there is found no place of sin or darkness in the holy God of the Bible.

 

Piscador’s statement is essentially the same as that of John Calvin when he says that God “wills the same as the criminal and the wicked, but in a different way.”[2] In other words, God wills evil in holiness, but men will evil in wickedness. How can anyone accept such outrageous claims when 1 Corinthians 6:14 clearly teaches us that righteousness and wickedness cannot work together? God will never unite His holiness with evil.

 

Attempting to explain this discrepancy, many Calvinists have established a double will within God. They argue that God has a revealed will and a secret or permissive will. John Piper writes:

Affirming the will of God to save all, while also affirming the unconditional election of some, implies that there are at least “two wills” in God, or two ways of willing. It implies that God decrees one state of affairs while also willing and teaching that a different state of affairs should come to pass. This distinction in the way God wills has been expressed in various ways throughout the centuries. It is not a new contrivance. For example, theologians have spoken of sovereign will and moral will, efficient will and permissive will, secret will and revealed will, will of decree and will of command, decretive will and preceptive will, voluntas signi (will of sign) and voluntas beneplaciti (will of good pleasure), etc.[3]

God’s revealed will is that all men everywhere be holy and righteous. God’s secret will is that men sin in order to accomplish a greater glory for God, as Theodore Beza says, “Nothing falls outside of the divine willing, even when certain events are clearly contrary to God’s will.”*[4][5] According to this doctrine, God has chosen to use sin to bring Himself even greater glory.

 

Jonathan Edwards concludes, “God did from all eternity will or decree the commission of all the sins of the world, because his permissive will is his true and real will.”[6] In other words, God has two wills—his revealed will and His real or permissive will. If God’s revealed will is not His real will, then how is it not a fake will? It is the will He talks about, but doesn’t really mean. Instead, God acts upon His real or permissive will which requires and necessitates sin.

 

According to this method of thinking, God is essentially saying one thing and doing something different. Arthur W. Pink explains, “But God knowing that we should fail to perfectly do His revealed will ordered His eternal counsels accordingly, and these eternal counsels, which make up His secret will, though unknown to us are, though unconsciously, fulfilled in and through us.”[7] Pink concludes, “God’s revealed will is never done perfectly or fully by any of us, but His secret will never fails of accomplishment even in the minutest particular.”[8] So God, in his revealed will, commands man to be holy in 1 Peter 1:16, but He secretly wills that man should sin because, as Arthur W. Pink explains, “This secret will is ‘always effected, always fulfilled.’[9] Does this accurately describe the God of the Bible? Of course not! Truth is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth” (Eph. 5:9).

 

Isaiah 45:19 reminds us that God does not say one thing and intend or do another, “I have not spoken in secret, in a dark place of the earth: I said not unto the seed of Jacob, Seek ye me in vain: I the LORD speak righteousness, I declare things that are right.”

 

Consider the implications of serving a God who says He wants righteousness but secretly wills sin instead. Although we may not agree with all his doctrine, Jesse Morrell aptly expounds:

If God commanded Adam and Eve not to sin when He secretly wanted them to sin, then God was misrepresenting His own character while misleading and deceiving Adam and Eve by giving them false impressions. You see, truthfulness is the foundation of trustworthiness. But what confidence can you have in the character of a being who doesn’t even mean what he says? It may be simplistic, but it’s true that the mere fact that God commanded them not to sin, and that He warned them about the negative consequences if they did sin, is proof positive that God didn’t want them to sin, but that they sinned contrary to His will and despite God’s influence in their lives.”[10]

 

Of course, John Calvin does not accept the two-wills of God argument. He does not believe that God has a divided will but rather that we are unable to understand how two apparently contradictory wills can truly be one will:

Still, however, the will of God is not at variance with itself. It undergoes no change. He makes no pretence of not willing what he wills, but while in himself the will is one and undivided, to us it appears manifold, because, from the feebleness of our intellect, we cannot comprehend how, though after a different manner, he wills and wills not the very same thing.[11]

 

Thus, according to Calvin, God only appears to have two wills. We simply are not spiritually acute enough to comprehend how God wills the very things He says that He does not want to happen. John Calvin maintains that his doctrine is true, but he is unable to prove it Scripturally. Rather than admit that his doctrine does not make sense, he blames mankind for not being astute enough to understand.*[12]

 

Though John Calvin does not accept the idea that God has two wills, he often speaks about God’s secret will when referencing the aspects of God’s will that man does not understand, “Let him, therefore, who would beware of such unbelief, always bear in mind, that there is no random power, or agency, or motion in the creatures, who are so governed by the secret counsel of God, that nothing happens but what he has knowingly and willingly decreed.”[13]

 

Contrary to what Calvin believes, we do not serve a God of secrets.  Instead, we serve a God who reveals His will to us as Amos 3:7 says, Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.”  Further, according to 1 Corinthians 2:16, we have been given the mind of Christ and are encouraged to investigate and judge all spiritual matters.

 

Our confidence in God’s will is what supplies our confidence to speak against sin. Jesse Morrell explains:

It would make no sense to rebuke sin if sin was God’s plan because then we would be rebuking God’s plan. It would make no sense to be upset with sin if sin was God’s plan, because then we would be upset with the plan of God. But all throughout the Bible, we see God’s condemnation of sin. Is God condemning the fruit of His own hands? Is God condemning the result of His own activity? Does God condemn His secret and sovereign will when He condemns sin?[14]

 


  1. Benson, The Revival and Rejection of an Old Traditional Heresy, 41.
  2. Calvin, Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, 184.
  3. Piper, “Are There Two Wills in God?"
  4. “The secret will of God is His eternal, unchanging purpose concerning all things which He hath made, to be brought about by certain means to their appointed ends.” (Pink, The Sovereignty of God, 244.)
  5. Beza, Of Christ and the Decree, 86.
  6. Edwards, On the Decrees, Book I., Ch. 3, 112–113, Source: Benson, The Revival and Rejection of an Old Traditional Heresy, 80.
  7. Pink, The Sovereignty of God, 246.
  8. Ibid, 244.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Jesse Morrell, Is God the Author of Sin?.
  11. Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book I, Ch. 18, Sect. 3.
  12. “It is any wonder that such immense splendour should blunt the acuteness of our mind? Our physical eyes are not enough to sustain a contemplation of the sun. Is our spiritual insight greater than our natural powers, or the majesty of God inferior to the glory of the sun? It is becoming in us, then, not to be too inquisitive; only let us not dare to deny the truth of what Scripture plainly teaches and experience confirms, or even to suggest that it does not reach agreement with God.” (Calvin, Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, 184–185.)
  13. Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book I, Ch. 16, Sect. 3.
  14. Morrell, Is God the Author of Sin?.

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Does God Have a Double Will? Copyright © 2011 by Timothy Zebell. All Rights Reserved.

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