The Will of God - Hyper-Calvinism Versus Historic Calvinism
by John Hendryx
I had a very interesting online discussion recently with a brother who took issue with a comment in an earlier article on HyperCalvinism. In that essay I alluded to the idea that evangelical/historic Calvinists believe that God's will is that all mankind obey the gospel and in this respect, he desires their salvation. I contrasted the Calvinist position with both extremes of Aminianism and Hyper-Calvinism. But this brother took offense when I wrote, "The Hyper-Calvinists will argue that God has no desire whatsoever that all men be saved." His position was that God's had no desire "to save the reprobate" ... but he didn't consider himself a "hypercalvinist" since he believed in the free and promiscuous proclamation of the gospel to all men. I assured him then that I did not think he fit the label of hypercalvinist since there is a world of difference between God's desire for sinners to repent and obey the gospel and God's desire TO SAVE the reprobate. While this may seem like a difficulty at first glance, I will explain what I mean in more detail below.
Consider the following two statements, both of which, I believe, can be forcefully
demonstrated from the Scriptures:
(1) God desires all PERSONS TO OBEY the gospel to be saved
(2) God does not desire TO SAVE the reprobate.
Are these two statements contradictory?
The first principle we need to remember is that the truth of God's word is honored not in holding exclusively to one revealed truth to the exclusion of another revealed truth, but rather, in believing the whole counsel of God. So If we don't understand how both kinds of desires can be true, and must have a rational explanation for every doctrine, we should consider that we also cannot rationally explain the Trinity or the depths of mystery in the incarnation. There is certainly mystery involved here in God having desires at various levels. Let's not be hasty to draw quick conclusions when speaking of God. God is infinitely bigger than our simple understanding. Even so, I think that in this case the concept is just within our grasp. To believe, as some do, that my position makes God a "double-minded fool" is to have too small a view of God, Imho. This would be to conclude that we finite creatures must be able to grasp God's ontological essence at the level of His desires, rather than just embrace the clear "paradox" the Scripture holds forth. It may be helpful to see one as His ultimate will and the other His penultimate will. Questions of mystery such as this should really serve to increase our appreciation of God's greatness.
The following two statements are not contradictory and both are Scriptural
(1) God's desire is for all people to obey the gospel, repent and be saved
(2) God in no way desires to save the reprobate
Sentence (1) is God's revealed preceptive will toward mankind about what man should do (his duty). God desires that man obey his will. It would be hopelessly contradictory to say that God wills (commands) that the reprobate obey the gospel and say this has nothing to do with His desire at any level. Jesus even weeps over the reprobate who refuse to recognize the time of His coming to Jerusalem. He says, "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling." If that does not express some kind of desire then I don't know what does. Note that Jesus even uses the term "wanted" here. Therefore, God's preceptive WILL for man to obey is the same as His DESIRE for them to obey, even for the reprobate. It is not saying He desires to save them Himself, it is saying He desires that they obey His preceptive commands to believe the gospel. But sentence (2) speaks specifically about what God HIMSELF does not desire to do - in this case to save the reprobate. God does not desire TO SAVE the reprobate but (1) He does desire that THEY REPENT and be saved. Of course they will not do it for they love darkness.
For God to desire both be true is as if He said, "I want you to obey because rebellion is a breach of my holy law and an offense against Me so it is deserving of my just wrath. I want you to come but you won't. And for very good and just reasons (My sovereign will) though not yet discernable to you, I refuse to do it for you. My affection and help is reserved for those in my family."
... In fact seen this way we can come very close to understanding this at a human level because we also desire things at various levels in every day life. And if finite humans have ultimate and penultimate wills concerning the same object then certainly it is not beyond God to. For example, I desire to live, but my desire is greater for my wife to live so I would lay down my life for her if it came down to it. God has reasons we cannot even comprehend, and though I don't know them, He has revealed His desires on both levels in the Scripture so I trust in His truthfulnesss regardless of whether I have full comprehension of how it can be done. But even if you cannot fully comprehend it let these truths serve to increase your appreciation of God's infinite wisdom and accept that His ways that are above your ways.
We must learn to distinguish between God's decrees and God's precepts. -- the first has to do with what must and what will happen with certainty, the second has to do with what God morally requires of mankind, and has nothing to do with whether man will actually do it. God's command is what He wants man to do on a preceptive level. God's decree determines what actually happens.
Reformed Theology teaches the concept "Semper Reformanda" (Always
Reforming) which means we can always grow in our understanding of Scripture
in ways that can further illumine truths already discovered in the Scripture
and expressed in the confessions. This endnote to my essay is in no way a
modified form of Reformed Theology, as some may suggest. The belief in God's
eternal decree remains wholly unchanged in my theology, (that God from all
eternity determines whatsoever comes to pass, including who will be saved
and who will be lost - for everything falls within the purview of His providence).
These only express a deeper understanding of this long held truth. Historic
Calvinists may indeed have said that God does not desire all men to be saved
but most were only referring to God's decretive will (which I agree with),
not His revealed prescriptive will --- so I would NOT usually place them under
the banner of "hypercalvinism" on this issue, unless warranted.
In other words I believe Calvin and others have always themselves believed
that God wants people to repent and be saved on a preceptive level even though
they may not have considered or expressed the nuance we are exploring here.
The point is that I am not calling those who believe that "God does not
desire TO SAVE the reprobate" hypercalvinists. But rather, I am
criticizing a form of hypercalvinism which takes this extraordinary truth
of God's eternal decree and brings it into the realm of the prescriptive will
of God. This is exemplified by those hypercalvinists who have have said that
since God does not want to save the reprobate so we must therefore never preach
the gospel to the non-elect but must find those who are elect and preach only
to them. No historic evangelical Calvinist, including John Calvin himself,
ever believed this. Such teaching, in my view, completely misapprehends the
Scripture and promotes a very unhealthy imbalance which is obviously a source
of great harm to the cause of the gospel. Thankfully the number of persons
who believe such things are but few.
So again I think it is critical that we should learn differentiate between God's desire for someone to BE SAVED (prescriptive will) and God's desire TO SAVE (will of decree).