1) There are several instances where Scripture mentions God’s revealed will. In the Lord’s prayer the petition, “Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6: 10) is a prayer that people would obey God’s revealed will, his commands, on earth just as they do in heaven (that is, fully and completely). This could not be a prayer that God’s secret will (that is, his decrees for events that he has planned) would in fact be fulfilled, for what God has decreed in his secret will shall certainly come to pass. To ask God to bring about what he has already decreed to happen would simply be to pray, “May what is going to happen happen.” That would be a hollow prayer indeed, for it would not be asking for anything at all. Furthermore, since we do not know God’s secret will regarding the future, the person praying a prayer for God’s secret will to be done would never know for what he or she was praying. It would be a prayer without understandable content and without effect. Rather, the prayer “Your will be done” must be understood as an appeal for the revealed will of God to be followed on earth.
If the phrase is understood in this way, it provides a pattern for us to pray on the basis of God’s commands in Scripture. In this sense, Jesus provides us with a guide for an exceedingly broad range of prayer requests. We are encouraged by Christ here to pray that people would obey God’s laws, that they would follow his principles for life, that they would obey his commands to repent of sin and trust in Christ as Savior. To pray these things is to pray that God’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven.
A little later, Jesus says, “Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21). Once again, the reference cannot be to God’s secret will or will of decree (for all mankind follows this, even if unknowingly), but to God’s revealed will, namely, the moral law of God that Christ’s followers are to obey (cf. Matt. 12:50; probably also 18:14). When Paul commands the Ephesians to “understand what the will of the Lord is” (Eph. 5: 17; cf. Rom. 2: 18), he again is speaking of God’s revealed will. So also is John when he says, “If we ask anything according to his will he hears us” (l John 5: 14).
It is probably best to put 1 Timothy 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9 in this category as well. Paul says that God “desires [or 'wills, wishes,' Gk. theleo] all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (l Tim. 2:4). Peter says that the Lord “is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). In neither of these verses can God’s will be understood to be his secret will, his decree concerning what will certainly occur. This is because the New Testament is clear that there will be a final judgment and not all will be saved. It is best therefore to understand these references as speaking of God’s revealed will his commands for mankind to obey and his declaration to us of what is pleasing in his sight.
On the other hand, many passages speak of God’s secret will. When James tells us to say, “If the Lord wills we shall live and we shall do this or that” (James 4:15), he cannot be talking about God’s revealed will or will of precept, for with regard to many of our actions we know that it is according to God’s command that we do one or another activity that we have planned. Rather, to trust in the secret will of God overcomes pride and expresses humble dependence on God’s sovereign control over the events of our lives. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 214. [Italics original; and underlining mine.]
2) 6. The Bible Says That God Wills to Save Everyone. Another objection to the doctrine of election is that it contradicts certain passages of Scripture: that say that God wills for all to be saved. Paul writes of God our Savior, “who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). And Peter says, ”The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Do not these passages contradict the idea that God has only chosen certain people to be saved?
One common solution to this question (from the Reformed perspective advocated in this book) is to say that these verses speak of God’s revealed will (telling us what we should do), not his hidden will (his eternal plans for what will happen).20 The verses simply tell us that God invites and commands every person to repent and come to Christ for salvation, but they do not tell us anything about God’s secret decrees regarding who will be saved.
The Arminian theologian Clark Pinnock objects to the idea that God has a secret and a revealed will–he calls it “the exceedingly paradoxical notion of two divine wills regarding salvation.”21 But Pinnock never really answers the question of why all are not saved (from an Arminian perspective). Ultimately Arminians also must say that God wills something more strongly than he wills the salvation of all people, for in fact all are not saved. Arminians claim that the reason why all are not saved is that God wills to preserve the free will of man more than he wills to save everyone. But is this not also making a distinction in two aspects of the will of God1 On the one hand God wills that all be saved (1 Tim. 2:5-6; 2 Peter 3:9). But on the other hand he wills to preserve man’s absolutely free choice. In fact, he wills the second thing more than the first. But this means that Arminians also must say that 1 Timothy 2:5-6 and 2 Peter 3:9 do not say that God wills the salvation of everyone in an absolute or W1qualified way-they too must say that the verses only refer to one kind or one aspect of God’s will.
Here the difference between the Reformed and the Arminian conception of God’s will is clearly seen. Both Calvinists and Arminians agree that God’s commands in Scripture reveal to us what he wants us to do, and both agree that the commands in Scripture invite us to repent and trust in Christ for salvation. Therefore, in one sense both agree that God wills that we be saved–it is the will that he reveals to us explicitly in the gospel invitation/
But both sides must also say that there is something else that God deems more important than saving everyone. Reformed theologians say that God deems his own glory more important than saving everyone, and that (according to Rom. 9) God’s glory is also furthered by the fact that some are not saved. Arminian theologians also say that something else is more important to God than the salvation of all people, namely, the preservation of man’s free will. So in a Reformed system God’s highest value is his own glory, and in an Arminian system God’s highest value is the free will of man. These are two distinctly different conceptions of the nature of God, and it seems that the Reformed position has much more explicit biblical support than the Arminian position does on this question.22 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 683-684. [Italics original; footnote values and content original; and underlining mine.]
20For a discussion of the difference between God’s revealed will and his secret will, see chapter 13, pp. 213-16; also chapter 16, pp. 327-30. See also John Piper, “Are There Two Wills in God? Divine Election and God’s Desire for All (0 Be Saved,” in The Grace of God, the Bondage of the Will, ed. Tom Schreiner and Bruce Ware.
21Clark Pinnock, “Introduction,” in Grace Unlimited, p. 13.
22See chapter 15, pp. 271-73, and chapter 21, pp. 440-41, on the fact that God created us and the whole universe for his own glory. An Arminian may object to putting the difference this way, and may say that God is more glorified when we choose him out of an absolutely free will, but this IS sun ply a doubtful assumption based on intuition or human analogy, and has no specific support from scripture. Moreover, to be consistent it seems the Arminian would also have to take account of the millions w;o do not choose God, and would have to say that God is also more glorified by the free choices of the millions who freely decide against God-otherwise, why would God allow them to persist in this free choice of rebellion?