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Turretin on the Will of God: Its Two-Fold aspect

February 6, 2008

FIFTEENTH QUESTION

May the will be properly distinguished into the will of decree and of precept, good purpose (eudokias) and good pleasure (euarestias), signified, secret and revealed? We affirm.

I. Although the will in God is only one and most simple, by which he comprehends all things by a single and most simple act so that he sees and understands all things at one glance, yet because it is occupied differently about various objects, it thus happens that in our manner of conception, it may be apprehended as manifold (not in itself and intrinsically on the part of the act of willing, but extrinsically and objectively on the part of the things willed).

II. Hence have arisen various distinctions of the will of God. The first and principal distinction is that of the decretive and preceptive will. The former means that which God wills to do or permit himself; the latter what he wills that we should do. The former relates to the futurition and the event of things and is the rule of God’s external acts; the latter is concerned with precepts and promises and is the rule of our action. The former cannot be resisted and is always fulfilled: “Who hath resisted his will?” (Rom. 9:19). The latter is often violated by men: “How often would I have gathered you together, and ye would not (Mt. 23:37).

III. As there are various passages of Scripture in which the will of God is taken either for the decree (Rom. 9:19; Eph. 1:ll) or for the precept (Ps. 143:10; Rom. 12:2), so there are also some in which both wills of God are signified at the same time (i.e., Jn. 6:38, where Christ says, “I came down to do the will of him that sent me” [i.e., to fulfil the things decreed by God and to obey the command of the Father]). And when we say in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done,” we ask that our lives may correspond to his precepts and his decrees be fulfilled.

IV. Although the precept falls also under the decree as to proposition, still it does not fall as to execution. Thus they may be properly distinguished from each other, so as the will of decree may be that which determines the event of things, but the will of precept that which prescribes to man his duty. Therefore God can (without a contradiction) will as to precept what he does not will as to decree inasmuch as he wills to prescribe something to man, but does not will to effect it (as he willed Pharaoh to release the people, but yet nilled their actual release).

V. Hence it happens that although these wills may be conceived by us as diverse (owing to the diversity of the objects), yet they are not contrary. For as was just said, they are not occupied about the same thing. Undoubtedly if God by the power of his decree would impel men to do what he has by his law prohibited, or if when attempting to obey the law he would by an opposite impediment recall them from obedience, he would will repugnancies and be himself opposed to his own will. But the decree of God does not contend with his command when he prescribes to man his bounden duty (for the performance of which, however, he does not will to give the strength because he wills indeed the thing as to the proposition of duty, but yet not as to the execution of the event).

VI. The preceptive will has a twofold object: sometimes affirmative (with respect to which it can also be called affirmative when the effecting of the thing is prescribed); sometimes negative (with respect to which it can itself also be called negative consisting in the prohibition of a thing). So the decretive will may have affirmative objects with respect to which it is called effectual and affirmative as well with respect to the end as to the principle; but others negative with respect to which the will ceasing can be called also negative (if not as to the principle at least as to the end) and then may be called permissive by which he determines not to hinder the creature from sinning. For although that volition may be positive as to the principle (inasmuch as he wills not to hinder), yet it is properly called negative as to the end (which is a non-hindering).

VII. The effective will cannot stand together with the negative preceptive. For God can never by himself will to effect what his law forbids as evil. Rather it best agrees with the affirmative preceptive will; for the same one who prescribes faith decrees to give it to the elect. The affirmative preceptive will can stand together with the negative decretive will, so that God may prescribe to the creature what nevertheless he does not will to effect in the creature. So he enjoins upon all the keeping of the law which, however, he does not effect in them. He enjoins faith in Christ upon the called which nevertheless he has decreed to withhold from many.

VIII. Besides this distinction of will, there is another by which it is distributed into the will of eudokias and euarestius (often used by theologians). The will eudokias answers to the decretive; euarestius to the preceptive. This distinction has the warrant of Scripture, which often calls the former eudokian and the latter euarestian. Thus Christ (speaking of the decretive will) says with respect to those things by which he either conceals or reveals his mysteries: “even so, Father, for so it seemed good (eudokia) in thy sight” (Mt. 11:26); and Paul says “God predestinated us according to the good pleasure (eudokian) of his will” (Eph. 1:s). In Eph. 1:9, mention is made of good pleasure (eudokias) in this sense. The euarestian is frequently referred to the preceptive will, which is called both that of approbation and that of complacency (as in Rom. 12:2 where the will of God to which we ought to conform is called good and acceptable [euarestos]; cf. “proving what is acceptable [euareston] unto the Lord,” Eph. 5:10); “for this is acceptable [euareston]unto the Lord,” Col. 3:20). In this sense, euarestia indicates the preceptive and approving will by which God declares what is pleasing to himself and what he wills to be done by men; but eudokia indicates the decretive will by which God testifies his good pleasure about the things which he has determined to perform.

IX. Therefore it is not so to be understood as if that which depends upon the eudokia of God may not also be acceptable (euareston) to him. For whatever God has decreed to be done is truly grateful to him in that respect, nor can he be said to will to perform what it would not please him to perform. But it can be received only in this way by which it is made to consist in the will of decree and precept- that by the will eudokias may be designated precisely that will by which God decrees to do or permit something and concerning which you can for the most part render no other reason than because it so pleased God; but by the will euarestias may be designated that by which he wills to propose to the creature his duty as a thing pleasing to him and in which he takes complacency.

X. We may sometimes interchange the eudokian for the euarestia, when it is spoken of those things with which God is pleased because there is in them some quality or condition which agrees with the nature of God and therefore conciliates his favor; as the Father says of Christ, “In whom I am well pleased” (en ho eudokesa , Mt. 3:17), i.e., most ardently love. Yet even this may with propriety be referred to the will of good pleasure which Christ fulfilled most perfectly by satisfying his justice. Still here it is taken strictly for the decree, no reason for which is to be sought except the good pleasure of God.

XI. Euarestia contradistinguished from eudokian 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). Hence it does not properly include any decree or 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). For the approbation of anything is not forthwith his volition, nor if I approve a thing, should I therefore immediately will it. So that it is less properly called the will of God.

XII. Although to the will 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, or 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, has himself decreed to withhold from the creature). But from this we can only gather that there is an inseparable connection between faith and salvation, constituted by God himself so that no one can obtain salvation who does not possess faith, and no one can have faith without most certainly obtaining salvation. Thus the promises added to the precepts signify only what God will grant to believers and penitents, not what he wills to grant to all those to whom the precept is proposed.

Will of sign
and pleasure.

XIII. The third distinction is into the will as signi and beneplaciti, introduced at first by Hugo St. Victor, taken from him by Lombard (Sententiarum 1, Dist. 45 [PL 1921 2.641-44]), frequently used by all the Scholastics, and especially by Thomas Aquinas (ST, I, Q. 19, Art. 11, 12, pp. 111-13) and, when properly explained, retained by our theologians.

XIV. The Scholastics call that the beneplacit will which remains concealed previously in God and is left to his most free power and becomes at length known by some oracle or by the event. But the will of sign is that which by some sign (for instance by a precept or promise) is made known to us and which indicates some effect out of God as the sign of his will. Hence the Scholastics usually reckoned five signs by which the will of God is manifested: precept, prohibition, counsel, permission, operation. These were comprehended in this versicle: Praecipit et prohibet, permittit, consulit, implet. But this is false: (1) because there are more such signs, for instance promises and threatenings, prophecies and narrations; (2) operation is not a sign of will, but its effect belonging to the beneplacit will; (3) permission does not fall under the signified, but under the beneplacit will; (4) counsel may be either referred to the beneplacit or included in the precept.

XV. With more propriety, therefore, the beneplacit will is made by us to answer to the decretive (which is nothing else than the decree of the good purpose of God about future external things); the will of sign is made by us to answer to the preceptive and approving (which prescribes to man his duty and indicates what is acceptable to God).

XVI. It is called the signified will, not because it signifies what God wills to do about man or concerning man (for in this sense it would not differ from the beneplacit will), but because it signifies what God wills to enjoin upon man as pleasing to himself and his bounden duty. Hence that will may well be said to fall under the decree and good pleasure as to the precept of the thing, not as to the thing of the precept because God prescribes nothing in time which he has not decreed from eternity to prescribe.

XVII. When the will of pleasure is contradistinguished from the signified will, the word “beneplacit” is not taken widely to denote the simple complacency and approbation of the thing or the decree of its injunction. In this sense, the will of sign can also be called the will of beneplacit because it is occupied about things approved by God and things which he decrees to enjoin upon the creature. But it is taken strictly to denote the placitum or decree of God concerning the effecting or permitting of a certain thing, just as the decrees of courts are called Placita (“decisions”).

XVIII. There cannot be contrariety between these two wills because they do not will and nill the same thing in the same manner and respect. The will of purpose is the will of event and execution. The signified will is the will of duty and of the obligation to it. Thus God willed the immolation of Isaac by a will of sign as to the preception (i.e., he prescribed it to Abraham as a test of his obedience), but he nilled it by a beneplacit will as to the event itself because he had decreed to prohibit that slaughter. Now although these two acts of the divine will are diverse (“I will to command Abraham to slay his son and “I do not will that immolation”), yet they are not contrary, for both were true–that God both decreed to enjoin this upon Abraham and equally decreed to hinder the effecting of it.

Hence God without contrariety willed Isaac to be offered up and not to be offered up. He willed it as to the precept, but nilled it as to the effect. The whole will of God about this affair was not either only to command Abraham to make that sacrifice or to hinder it, but ought to embrace those two diverse acts (the former of which is affirmative, occupied with the injunction of the thing; and the latter negative, respecting the hindrance of it). Nor does it follow from this that man is ordered to believe what is false. For we are ordered to believe what is revealed just because it is revealed. However the event is not already revealed by a command of this kind, but only the duty and the obligation to it.

XIX. Although God may be said to will the salvation of all by the will of sign and to nill it by the beneplacit will, yet there is no contradiction here. Besides the fact that the universal proposition is to be understood not so much of the singulars of the genera as of the genera of the singulars, the former will relates to the mere approbation of God and the command of duty, while the latter is concerned with its futurition and fulfillment. The former denotes what is pleasing to God and what he has determined to enjoin upon man for the obtainment of salvation, but the latter what God himself has decreed to do. But these two are not at variance: to will to call to faith and salvation, and yet to nill to give that faith and salvation; to will (i.e., to command man to believe) and to nill (i.e., to decree not to give him faith in order that he may believe).

XX. The will of sign which is set forth as extrinsic ought to correspond with some internal will in God that it may not be false and deceptive; but that internal will is not the decree concerning the gift of salvation to this or that one, but the decree concerning the command of faith and promise of salvation if the man does believe (which is founded both upon the connection established by God between faith and salvation and the internal disposition of God by which, as he loves himself, he cannot but love his image wherever he sees it shining and is so much pleased with the faith and repentance of the creature as to grant it salvation).

XXI. The promised salvation set forth by the will of sign does not indeed properly and directly fall under the precept because in their formal nature promise and precept differ. The former indicates a blessing, the latter a duty. However reductively and secondarily it can belong to it inasmuch as it is added to the precept by way of stimulus as means and motive to excite the performance of that for which the precept is given. And although it is necessary that the promise should have some foundation as to the certainty of the event (in order to influence man), that must not be sought from the decree of God about particular persons (of bestowing salvation upon all which cannot consist with the decree of reprobation), but from his decree about the things themselves (i.e., from the ordination and inseparable connection established by God between faith and salvation as between the means and the end). Thus it happens that salvation is most surely in the gospel promised to all believers because so close is the connection between faith and salvation from the good pleasure of God that no one can have the former without being also possessed of the latter.

XXII. To that external word which is a sign (for example, every believer in Christ shall be saved) some internal word or thing signified ought to answer (viz., the will of God to connect inseparably faith in Christ with salvation and to propose to man such an order and way of salvation). But it cannot be the conditional will to save each and every individual under that condition because God would testify that he wills what in reality he does not will towards those passed by (from whom he withholds the condition).

XXIII. Although the will of sign signifies that God is merciful, it does not follow that he ought to be merciful with respect to each and every individual, but only with respect to those who are about to have the condition expressed by that will (viz., to believers), to whom alone (since they are no other than the elect) the mercy expressed by that will properly belongs. Besides, since that will of sign has never been universal with respect to each and every one (although universal and common with respect to all people and conditions), the mercy signified by it cannot be universal.

XXIV. If God by this will had signified that he willed the salvation of all without exception, he would have signified that he willed what he least willed (since by passing over the greater part, he has not willed to give them salvation). But when it signifies that he wills the salvation of all believers and penitents, it signifies that he wills that which he really wills and nothing is more true, nothing more sincere than such a declaration.

The secret and
revealed will.

XXV. The fourth distinction of the will is into secret and revealed. The former is commonly applied to the decretive will, which for the most part lies concealed in God; but the latter to the preceptive will, which is revealed and manifested in the law and gospel. Its foundation springs from Dt. 29:29: “The secret things belong unto the Lord our God; but those things which are revealed belong unto us, and to our children, that we may do all the words of this law.” The former is called a profound and unfathomable abyss (Ps. 36:6; Rom. 11:33, 34); the latter is discovered to all, nor is it far from us (Dt. 30:14; Rom. 10:8). The former has for its object all those things which God wills either to effect or permit (and which he wills to do in particular concerning individuals and are therefore absolute and determined to one thing). The latter relates to those things which belong to our duty and are proposed conditionally. The former always takes place; the latter is often violated.

XXVI. It is called a secret will, not because always concealed from us and never revealed (for frequently God in his word manifests to men certain secrets of his counsel and lays them bare by the event), but because they remain hidden in God (until he reveals them by some sign, as by a prophecy or by the event).

XXVII. Although the secret will concerning our election remains concealed in God, it does not follow that we can have no certainty of salvation because although we cannot gain it a priori, yet we can a posteriori.

XXVIII. Whatever Christ willed to be done in time by men (from duty according to the law and gospel), that he has also revealed in time; but not forthwith whatever he has decreed to be done by himself from good pleasure (which God for the most part keeps to himself and manifests to us only by the event, Acts I:7; Mk. l3:32).

XXIX. Although God is the best, it is not necessary that he should exercise a good will to all for salvation by an antecedent will because the exercise of his goodness depends upon his most wise will (which pities whom it wills and whom it wills hardens). Nor if he wills to pour out his goodness on the creature by the blessing of creation and of providence, ought he to exercise good will to it unto salvation.

Turretin, Institutes, 1:220-225. C.f. Turretin on God Desiring and Wishing that All Men be Saved.


[Editorial note: I have included Turretin’s treatment here because of the widespread ignorance regarding the Reformed doctrine of the two-fold aspect to the will of God. Many calling themselves Calvinists are ignorant of this basic distinction. However, having said that, the classic and moderate Calvinist will not be attracted to everything Turretin says here.
1), Turretin here stresses the mere passive complacency of the revealed will, devoid of any volitional quality or aspect. Against this, see Dabney’s Indiscriminate Proposals of Mercy; c.f., Ken Stebbins’ Christ Freely Offered, and John Murray’s The Free Offer of the Gospel. Historically, it has been impossible for the Reformed community to consistently avoid speaking of the revealed will without descriptors such as “desire” or “wish.” Not even Turretin can do this (see link above).
2), Turretin, in some of this, moves beyond the categories and expressions of Calvin, relative to exegesis of critical verses (Matt. 23:37, 2 Peter 3:9, John 3:16, Ps 81:13, 1 Tim 2:4. If Calvin’s exegesis of these verses is upheld, then Turretin’s emphasis on the receptive will as a mere passive delight, or something less than universal, cannot be sustained.
3) Calvin did affirm a conditional will, as is demonstrated in his comments on Eze 18:23 and from his Tract on Predestination. What is more, for Calvin, the revealed will does move and incline God in some manner. To conclude, this extract is given to enlighten the unillumined minds of many who claim that the idea of a two-fold aspect to the will of God is unReformed, at best, or disquised Pelagianism, at worst.]

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