On God's Sovereign & Moral Will
The two wills of God is very helpful and biblical subject. Below is a brief explanation and summary of the biblical passages and issues at stake. Many pastors and theologians have written on this over the years. Here are few great resources:
Are There Two Wills In God? // John Piper
Are There Two Wills In God? // Sam Storms
Are There Two Wills In God? // Matt Chandler
Are There Two Wills In God? // Francis Turretin
Are There Two Wills In God? // R.C. Sproul
Theologians have long recognized that there are two wills of God referred to in the Bible and have given them different names in order to differentiate between them:
Sovereign Will // Moral Will
Efficient Will // Permissive Will
Secret Will // Revealed Will
Will of Decree // Will of Command
Decretive Will // Perceptive Will
Will of Sign // Will of Pleasure
I'm simply going to use the first designation (Sovereign Will & Moral Will) here through all the other terms are equally helpful and descriptive of the two wills of God. Here is a definition of each:
God's Sovereign Will is what God, by his limitless power and knowledge, has eternally ordered and determined to happen from beginning to end in all of his creation, all for his glory.
God's Moral Will is what God, by his limitless perfection and holiness, has revealed about his character and the righteous requirements for men and angels who live under his Sovereign rule and reign.
I know that You can do all things and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.
Psalm 139:4-5, 15-16
Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before...when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.
For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, "My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.
All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, 'What have you done?'
You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.
It will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us.
Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.'
1 Thessalonians 4:3
This is the will of God, your sanctification.
Here is where the apparent difficulty comes into play. Matthew 18:14, 2 Peter 3:9 and 1 Timothy 2:4 all say that God does not will for anyone to perish but for all to be saved. Yet we know many are not saved but are thrown into hell by God (Matt 10:28) who has planned it to be so since before the foundation of the world (Rom 9:22) along with his ordering of all events that have yet to take place.
So here is the question, what will of God (Sovereign or Moral) is being referred to by Jesus in Matthew 18:14 when Jesus says God is not willing that any should perish? Since some do perish, this reference to God can only be his Moral Will. But how are we to conceptualize such a thing? Whenever we run into theological challenges the best place to look is to Jesus and to his cross.
He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all...it was the will of the Lord to crush him.
Jesus, (was) delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, (whom) you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.
On the cross, the Sovereign Will and the Moral Will of God collided. According to God's Sovereign Will he allowed his Moral Will to be violated in order that the greater purpose of his glory, in the saving of his people, might be accomplished. So we learn this principle, sometimes God does that which he hates (in the case of Jesus: murder) in order to accomplish his greater good plan.
Now back to the will of God that none should perish. When we read those words I think we are hearing about the love and passion God has for his holiness and his righteousness. God is a complex being. On one hand, morally, he never wills that any should perish. Perishing is sad and terrible, it's eternal damnation in hell. Yet, in the greater scheme of things, his goodness and justice is seen more brightly and rightly if some do in fact perish. So he sovereignly wills their perishing. In having holy justice occur upon the perishing the true heinousness of sin is shown. In saving some from perishing the true and deep nature of his mercy and love is shown. Thus once again, as with Jesus on the cross, we have God doing that which on one hand he hates, in order to on the other hand accomplish the greater good of his glory.
Often I have seen and heard those who would accept the theology presented above to the extent that they overemphasize God's Sovereign Will and as a result dismiss or do not allow the Scriptures to say or mean anything when they clearly tell us God doesn't will for any to perish. Since the Bible does tell us God doesn't will any to perish, God means for it to be good to know...even if it is describing the complexity of God and his affections and presses the bounds of what our small brains can comprehend. So then what is supposed to be our response? What is he after?
I think it is an invitation. I think when Jesus tells us God is not willing for any to perish, he means for us to be drawn into the heart of God so we are not willing any to perish either. I think he means for us to work with every effort so that people might hear the gospel and believe and thereby be spared from perishing. In fact, this is what the Bible calls us to.
Jude 1:23 says, "Save others by snatching them out of the fire." Ironically then, it seems the purpose of God revealing to us that he has two wills is an intently missional purpose.
Understanding, believing and accepting the two wills of God described in Scripture is meant to propel us toward mission. We are to think, feel and work to bring as many as possible to Jesus because that is the heart of God.
May God help us in the mission he has called us to and give us great confidence since we know he has sovereignly willed for not all to perish but for many to indeed come to repentance.
- Pastor Duane Smets