1) John Calvin (1509-1564):
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) “It would seem, at first sight, that what is said here might be without apparent reason. It is true God always knows why he commands or forbids men to do what pleases or displeases him, but we are not always informed of it.” Calvin, Sermons on Genesis, Sermon 10, Gen 2:15-17, p., 164.
3) 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.
4) Zacharias Ursinus (1534-1583):
There are four classes of things concerning which men give commandment. These are, first, divine precepts, which God desires, that men should propose unto themselves for their observance, not, however, in their own name, but by the authority of God himself, as being the ministers and messengers, and not the authors of these precepts. Zacharias Ursinus, The Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism, trans., G.W. Willard (Phillpsburg N.J.: P&R, 1994), 519-520.
Comments found in Heinrich Heppe’s Reformed Dogmatics:
5) 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.
6) 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.
7) 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.
8) 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.
Francis Turretin (1623-1687):
9) XXVI. Purely personal sins differ from those which are and public. The former should not be imputed posterity. Of them, the law must be understood: “The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin” (Dt. 24:16). However nothing prevents the latter from being imputed, and such was the sin of Adam. (2) The law imposed upon men differs from the law to which God binds himself. Barriers are placed to human vengeance because it might be abused, but not to divine justice. In this passage, God undoubtedly shows what he wishes to be done ordinarily by men, but not immediately what he wishes [Lat.: velit] to do or what he can do from the order of justice. Otherwise he could not have said in the law that he would visit the iniquities of parents upon their children, nor would he have confirmed this by many examples. Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1994), 1:624.
10) XVI. It is one thing to will reprobates to come (i.e., to command them to come and to desire it); another to will they should not come (i.e., to nill the giving them the power to come). God can in calling them will the former and yet not the latter without any contrariety because the former respects only the will of precept, while the latter respects the will of decree. Although these are diverse (because they propose diverse objects to themselves, the former the commanding of duty, but the latter the execution of the thing itself), still they are not opposite and contrary, but are in the highest degree consistent with each other in various respects. He does not seriously call who does not will the called to come (i.e., who does not command nor is pleased with his coming). But not he who does not will him to come whither he calls (i.e., did not intend and decree to come). For a serious call does not require that there should be an intention and purpose of drawing him, but only that there should be a constant will of commanding duty and bestowing the blessing upon him who performs it (which God most seriously wills). But if he seriously make known what he enjoins upon the man and what is the way of salvation and what is agreeable to himself, God does not forthwith make known what he himself intended and decreed to do. Nor, if among men, a prince or a legislator commands nothing which he does not will (i.e., does not intend should also be done by his subjects because he has not the power of effecting this in them), does it follow that such is the case with God, upon whom alone it depends not only to command but also to effect this in man. But if such a legislator could be granted among men, he would rightly be said to will that which he approves and commands, although he does not intend to effect it. Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1994) 2:507-508.
11) XXI. The invitation to the wedding proposed in the parable (Mt. 22:1-14) teaches that the king wills (i.e., commands and desires) the invited to come and that this is their duty; but not that the king intends or has decreed that they should really come. Otherwise he would have given them the ability to come and would have turned their hearts. Since he did not do this, it is the surest sign that he did not will they should come in this way. When it is said “all things are ready” (Lk. 14:17), it is not straightway intimated an intention of God to give salvation to them, but only the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice. For he was prepared by God and offered on the cross as a victim of infinite merit to expiate the sins of men and to acquire salvation for all clothed in the wedding garment and flying to him (i.e., to the truly believing and repenting) that no place for doubting about the truth and perfection of his satisfaction might remain. Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1994) 2:509.
Hermann Venema (1697-1787):
12) (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.
William Cunningham (1805-1861):
13) 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.
Thomas J. Crawford:
14) Now, without pretending that we are able to give a satisfactory answer to this question, we are not prepared to admit, what the question evidently assumes, that God can have no sincere desire with reference to the conduct of all His creatures, if it be His purpose to secure on the part of some, and not on the part of all of them, the fulfillment of this desire. For how does the case stand in this respect with His commandments? These, no less than His invitations, are addressed to all. Both are alike to be considered as indications of what He desires and requires to be done by all. Nor are there wanting, with reference to His commandments, testimonies quite as significant as any which are to be found’ with reference to His invitations, of the earnestness and intensity of His desire that the course which they prescribe should be adopted by all who hear them. Take, for example, these tender expostulations: “O that there were such a heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!” [Deut.v, 29.]. “O that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways!” [Ps. lxxxi. 13.]. “O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments; then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the wav& of the sea!” [Isa. xlviii. 18.]. Thomas J. Crawford, The Mysteries of Christianity (Edinburgh: William Blackward & Sons, 1874), 351-352. [Italics Crawford’s, underlining mine.]
John L. Dagg (1794–1884):
15) 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.
Of general interest:
1) 29.–Moreover this permission is not a relation of indifference in God to man, but a positive act. By it God gives man opportunity to sin, withdraws His protecting grace from Him, and hands him over to the power of sin and the devil, so that in that case sin is the necessary result.–URSIN (Explic. catech. 131): The word permissio is not to be rejected, since it is occasionally used in Scripture. This permissio is not “a cessation of divine providence and operation” but “a withdrawal of divine grace, by which God–either does not teach the acting. creature what He Himself wishes done, or Himself does not bend its will to obedience Heinrich Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978), 275.
2) COCCEIUS (Summ. de foed. II, 45): “The covenant of works God made with Adam both on his own behalf and in him as stock, with the whole human race in virtue of the blessing on nature “.–WYTENBACH (Tent. II, 574): “The covenant which God fixed with the first man He made in his person with all his posterity: for the law of the covenant applies to all men whatsoever, and therefore God cannot avoid demanding the observation of it from all; besides in Adam the first man, or the natural head of the whole human race, all men virtually existed already, and God foreknew who and how many would arise from it, so that all were really present in person at that time. Moreover, if the law of the covenant applied to all and God required the observance of it by Adam’s posterity, who were all actually visualised as present, it follows no less that He wished the promise of the covenant to apply to all on condition of perfect keeping of the law. There is of course no reason for the law applying to all and not specifically the promise of the reward. Therefore God wished the whole covenant to apply to Adam’s successors and so He made it in his person with all his descendants”. Heinrich Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978), 291.