THE term will, which always imports desire, is variously applied, according to the object of that desire.

1. It denotes intention or purpose to act. It is said of Apollos “His will was not at all to come at this time,”1 i.e., he had not formed the intention or purpose to come. In this sense, the will of God is spoken of: “According to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.”2 Purpose or intention may exist before the time of action arrives. When it has arrived, the mind puts forth an act termed volition, to produce the desired effect. In human beings, purposes may be fickle, and may undergo change before the time for action comes; but God’s purpose or intention is never changed; and when the time for producing the proposed effect arrives, we are not to conceive that a new volition arises in the mind of God; but the effect follows according to the will of God, without any new effort on his part.

2. It denotes a desire to act, restrained by stronger opposing desires, or other counteracting influences. Pilate was “willing” to release Jesus;3 but other considerations, present to his mind, overruled this desire, and determined his action. We are compelled to conceive of the divine mind, from the knowledge which we possess of our own; and the Scriptures adapt their language to our conceptions. In this way, a desire to act is sometimes attributed to God, when opposing considerations prevent his action. “I would scatter them, were it not that I feared the wrath of the enemy.”4How often would I have gathered, &c., and ye would not.”5

3. It is used with reference to an external object that is desired, or an action which it is desired that another should perform. “Sacrifice and offering thou wouldst not.”6 “Be it unto thee as thou wilt.”7 “Ask what ye mill.”8 What will ye, that I should do.”9 In this sense, as expressing simply what is in itself desirable to God, will is attributed to him. “Not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”10 I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, &c.11 “This is the will of God, even your sanctification.”12

4. 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.

Will of Command.

It is specially important to distinguish between the first and last of the significations which have been enumerated. In the first, tho will of God refers exclusively to his own action, and imports his fixed determination as to what he will do. It is called his will of purpose, and always takes effect. In the last sense, it refers to the actions of his creatures, and expresses what it would be pleasing to him that they should do. This is called his will of precept, and it always fails to take effect when the actions of his creatures do not please him, i.e., when they are in violation of his commands. The will of purpose is intended, when it is said, ” According to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will, and,”13 and “He doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth.”14 The will of precept is intended, when it is said, “Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.”15 Let it be noted that, in the former case, God only is the agent, and the effect, is certain; in the latter, his creatures arc the agents, and the effect is not an object of certain expectation, but of petition.


The Scriptures make the will of God the rule of duty, both to those who have the means of clear knowledge, and those who have not. The disobedience of the former will be punished with many stripes, that of the latter with few. No man will be held accountable, except for the means of knowledge that are within his reach; but these, even in the case of the benighted heathen, are sufficient to render them inexcusable. We have no right to dictate to God in what manner he shall make his will known to us; but we are bound to avail ourselves of all possible means for obtaining the knowledge of it; and, when known, we are bound to obey it perfectly, and from the heart.

Various terms are used to denote the will of God, as made known in the Holy Scriptures, statutes, judgments, laws, precepts, ordinances, kc. The two great precepts, which lie at the foundation of all the laws, are, thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. The first of these is expanded into the four commandments, which constitute the first table of the decalogue; the second into the six commandments, which constitute the second table. The decalogue was given for a law to the children of Israel, as is apparent from its introduction. ”I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.”17 It was, however, distinguished from the other laws given to that nation, by being pronounced audibly from Sinai with the voice of God, and by being engraved with the finger of God on the tables of stone. When we examine its precepts, we discover that they respect the relations of men, as men, to God and to one another; and me find, in the New Testament, that their obligation is regarded as extending to Gentiles under the gospel dispensation.18 We infer, therefore, that the decalogue, though given to the Israelites, respected them as men, and not as a peculiar people, and is equally obligatory on all men.

The ceremonial law respected the children of Israel as a worshiping congregation, called “the Congregation of the Lord.” It commenced with the institution of the Passover, and ended when Christ our Passover was sacrificed for us, and when the handwriting of ordinances was nailed to the cross. Then its obligation ceased. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are ceremonies of the Christian dispensation, obligatory on the disciples of Christ, to the end of the world.

The judicial law was given to the Israelites as a nation, and is not obligatory on any other people. The principles of justice on which was was based, are universal, and should be incorporated into every civil code.

J.L. Dagg, Manual of Theology and Church Order, (Harrisonburg, VA: Gano Books, 1982), 99-102. [Note: Here Dagg expressly exhibits an Edwardsean psychology of the divine mind.]


11 Cor. xvi.12.
2Eph. i.11.
3Luke. xxiii.20.
4Deut. xxxii. 27.
5Matt. xxiii. 37.
6Heb. 10:5.
7Matt. xv.28.
8John. xv. 7.
9Mark xv. 12.
102 Peter iii. 9.
11Ezek. xxxiii. 11.
121 Thess. iv. 3.
13Eph. I. 11.
14Dan. iv. 35.
15Matt. vi. 10.
16Ps. xl. 8; cxliii. 10; Matt. vi. 10 ; Rom. ii. 18; Ex. xx; Rom. ii. 12-15; Eccl. xii. 13.
17Ex. xx. 2.
18Rom. xiii. 8, 9; Eph. vi. 3.

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