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Reformed Theology: What God Commands, He Wants

November 19, 2008

I have updated my file back at the Calvin and Calvinism site, God Desires Compliance to his Will and Commands as Standard Reformed Doctrine. There is a fairly good compelling consensus.

1) John Calvin:

What I have said of the precepts, abundantly suffices to confound your blasphemies. For though God gives no pretended commands, but seriously declares what he wishes and approves [Latin: vult et probat.]; yet it is in one way, that he wills the obedience of his elect whom he efficaciously bends to compliance; and in another that of the reprobate whom he warns by the external word, but does not see good to draw to himself. Contumacy and depravity are equally natural to all, so that none is ready and willing to assume the yoke. John Calvin, Secret Providence, trans., by James Lillie, Article 7, John Calvin’s reply.

2) Johannes Wollebius (1586-1629):

“Just as the edicts of a magistrate are called his will, so the designation of will may be given to precepts, prohibitions, promises, and even deeds and events. Thus the divine will is also called that which God wants done [voluntas signi], because it signifies what is acceptable to God; what he wants done by us. It is called “consequent” because it follows that eternal antecedent; “conditional” because the commandments, prohibitions, warnings, and promises of God all have a condition of obedience or disobedience attached to them. Finally, it is called “revealed,” because it is always explained in the word of God. It must be observed that this sort of distinction does not postulate either really diverse, or contradictory, wills in God.” Johannes Wollebius, “The Compendium Theologiae Christianae” in Reformed Dogmatics (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1977), 48.

Comments found in Heinrich Heppe’s Reformed Dogmatics:

3) 25.- The will of God directed to the world is by many distinguished as voluntas beneplaciti and voluntas signi, in the sense that it is voluntas beneplaciti by which He wills us to be saved and we understand what He has established with Himself concerning our salvation from eternity.–It is (voluntas) signi by which He requires the things which we ought to supply (SEEGEDIN, p. 23).

Many dogmaticians approve the distinction between voluntas signi and voluntas beneplacti; POLANUS (II, 19): “It is called voluntas signi, because it signifies what is pleasing to God, what belongs to our duty, what He wishes to be done or omitted by us, etc.” These “signa voluntatis, from which it is known what God wills”, are “precept, prohibition, permission, counsel, and the fulfilment of predictions.”

…Similarly WALAEUS, p. i 7 I: “A famous distinction of great importance and use, employed by the Scholastics and also accepted by ours, is the division into voluntas signni et beneplaciti“; and HOTTINGER, who (p. 80) explains that “the distinction of will into that which is of sign and that which is of good pleasure is convenient. It is confirmed by famous sayings of H. Scripture, Dt. 29. 29 (the secret things belong unto the Lord our God; but the things that are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law); Tobit 12, 14; 18 (not of any favour of mine (the angel Raphael) but by the will of our God I came: wherefore bless Him for ever)”. HOTTINGER identifies this distinction with the difference between voluntas revelata and voluntas arcana. For he continues “Voluntas signi is sometimes called revelala, voluntas heneplaciti arcana“. Then he says that by this distinction is expressed merely the difference between voluntas praecipiens and voluntas decernens. In this latter sense the distinction is also used by BRAUN (I, II, 3, 18): “It is also divided into voluntas heneplaciti et voluntas signi. By others rather into voluntas praecepti; which division seems more convenient.

Voluntas signi (or praecepti) is that will by which God signifies to men what He wishes to be done by them; voluntas beneplaciti or decreti, by which God has decreed what He wishes to do in man, e.g., God wills, voluntate signi vel praecepti, that parents should provide all things for their children which are necessary for long life, although He has perhaps decreed voluntate beneplaciti et decreti, that the children should die suddenly. So God willed voluntate signi et praecepti that Abraham should gird himself to sacrifice his son Isaac, although voluntate decreti et beneplaciti He willed to preserve him in life.

…BRAUN continues (19): “Yet if we would speak correctly, it is certain that no will can be called voluntas signi. Rather by a universal order we must say that it is the sign of an approving will. All injunctions, promises and threats are but signs of God’s will, i.e., of what God wishes to be done by us, but not of what He has decreed. Nor are there different wills. Every will is strictly speaking voluntas beneplaciti. When God enjoins, approves, promises and threatens, this is always done in terms of His beneplacitum. Heinrich Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978), 85-86.

4) To meet the Arminian reproach that by such a distinction two voluntates sibi contrariae are assumed HEIDAN, (pp.136-7) insists: “(I) Strictly speaking there is but a single will of God called beneplaciti, whereby God determines by Himself what He wills to do in and concerning the creature. The second is but the sign and indication by which He shows what He wishes creatures to do. But He does not wish them to make His beneplacitum universal; but only the things which He reveals to them, Dt. 29. 29 (p. 85). Source: Heirnich Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978), 87.

5) Reformed dogmaticians as a whole are occupied with the question, whether goodness is good because God wills it, or whether God wills the good because it is good. Recognition of the absoluteness of God seemed to many reconcilable with the former. Hence, e.g., POLAN (II, 26) says: “(i) God does, what by His own law He prohibits us; He passed the law for us, not for Himself. E.g., He does not bring it about that we admit no sin while living here, though He might most easily have done SO.-(2) The supreme rule of divine righteousness is His most perfect and infallible will God is a law to Himself. Whatever He wishes done, it is right by the very fact that He wills it. Source: Heinrich Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978), 93-94.

6) 5–”The decree of God is the inward act of the divine will, by which from eternity He has most freely and most surely decreed concerning the things which had to be made in time” (WOLLEB 17).–Other definitions: v. TIL (4, De decret. Dei, p. 61): “God’s decree is our name for God’s eternal and immutable purpose to manifest His glory in things possible¡. concerning which, according to His Infinite wisdom and most free eudokia, He has determined both what He wished to be done or not to be done in time, both in setting up natures and also in appointing their futurition”. –PICTET (III, i, 2): “By the decree we understand the firm and unchangeable purpose in God’s mind concerning what He was to make in time or to allow”.–HOTTINGER, p. 73: “The decree is God’s inward action or His eternal counsel anent things to come into being outwith Himself, which things He foreknows with an infallibility equal to the immutability with which He has predetermined them.” Heinrich Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978), 137-138.


7) (2) God wishes his laws to be obeyed, and therefore wishes also his creatures to be incited in every way to the keeping of them. This purpose is greatly served by the prospect of rewards. But justice loves and demands these rewards. Hermann Venema, Institutes of Theology, trans., by Alex W. Brown, (Andover: W.F. Draper Brothers, 1853), 172.


8 ) Many of the events that take place,–such as the sinful actions of men,–are opposed to, or inconsistent with, His will as revealed in His law, which is an undoubted indication of what He wished or desired that men should do. William Cunningham, Historical Theology (Banner of Truth, 1994), 2:452.


9) Closely allied to the last signification, and perhaps included in it, is that use of the term will, in which it denotes command, requirement. When the person, whose desire or pleasure it is that an action should be performed by another, has authority over that other, the desire expressed assumes the character of precept. The expressed will of a suppliant, is petition; the expressed will of a ruler, is command. What we know that it is the pleasure of God we should do, it is our duty to do, and his pleasure made known to us becomes a law. J.L. Dagg, Manual of Theology and Church Order, (Harrisonburg, VA: Gano Books, 1982), 100.

C.f., Turretin.

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