Contend Earnestly: God's Desire of Salvation for All

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

God's Desire of Salvation for All

We have been going back and forth here a little bit on what it means that God desires for all men to be saved. From what I have discerned from James White's response here, is that he is a little to soft in his assertion of God's will or desire. It seems as though that White would only agree to the fact that by the proclamation of the gospel to all, by men, would show his desire for all to be saved. What it seems White draws the line at is God's personal desire for all men to be saved. Although I believe that the way God displays his desire is found in the proclamation of the gospel, it doesn't merely stop there. I find that God truly desires or wishes in his person that all men be saved. To understand this more fully, one has to ascribe to the "two-wills" theory of God to be able to say that God desires fully for someone to be saved, yet also leaves them as the reprobate. Murray calls this a mystery as he states these two summations here:

II Peter 3:9. In view of what we have found already there is no reason in the analogy of Scripture why we should not regard this passage as teaching that God in the exercise of his benevolent longsuffering and lovingkindness wills that none should perish but that all should come to repentance. An a priori assumption that this text cannot teach that God wills the repentance and salvation of all is a gravely unsound assumption, for it is not an assumption derived from the analogy of Scripture. In approaching this text there should be no such prejudice. What this text does actually teach will have to be determined, however, by grammatico-historical exegesis of the text and context.

(2) We have found that God himself expresses an ardent desire for the fulfilment of certain things which he has not decreed in his inscrutable counsel to come to pass. This means that there is a will to the realization of what he has not decretively willed, a pleasure towards that which he has not been pleased to decree. This is indeed mysterious, and why he has not brought to pass, in the exercise of his omnipotent power and grace, what is his ardent pleasure lies hid in the sovereign counsel of his will. We should not entertain, however, any prejudice against the notion that God desires or has pleasure in the accomplishment of what he does not decretively will.

We can also see that John Piper would say the exact same thing in his short treatise on this subject:

To avoid all misconceptions it should be made clear at the outset that the fact that God wishes or wills that all people should be saved does not necessarily imply that all will respond to the gospel and be saved. We must certainly distinguish between what God would like to see happen and what he actually does will to happen, and both of these things can be spoken of as God's will.

Piper then tells a story given by Dabney about George Washington. The following is told:

Dabney uses an analogy from the life of George Washington taken from Chief-Justice Marshall's Life of Washington. A certain Major André had jeopardized the safety of the young nation through "rash and unfortunate" treasonous acts. Marshall says of the death warrant, signed by Washington, "Perhaps on no occasion of his life did the commander-in-chief obey with more reluctance the stern mandates of duty and of policy." Dabney observes that Washington's compassion for André was "real and profound". He also had "plenary power to kill or to save alive." Why then did he sign the death warrant? Dabney explains, "Washington's volition to sign the death-warrant of André did not arise from the fact that his compassion was slight or feigned, but from the fact that it was rationally counterpoised by a complex of superior judgments . . . of wisdom, duty, patriotism, and moral indignation [the wide-angle lens]."

Dabney imagines a defender of André, hearing Washington say, "I do this with the deepest reluctance and pity." Then the defender says, "Since you are supreme in this matter, and have full bodily ability to throw down that pen, we shall know by your signing this warrant that your pity is hypocritical." Dabney responds to this by saying, "The petulance of this charge would have been equal to its folly. The pity was real, but was restrained by superior elements of motive. Washington had official and bodily power to discharge the criminal, but he had not the sanctions of his own wisdom and justice." The corresponding point in the case of divine election is that "the absence of volition in God to save does not necessarily imply the absence of compassion." God has "a true compassion, which is yet restrained, in the case of the . . . non-elect, by consistent and holy reasons, from taking the form of a volition to regenerate." God's infinite wisdom regulates his whole will and guides and harmonizes (not suppresses) all its active principles."

In other words, God has a real and deep compassion for perishing sinners. Jeremiah points to this reality in God's heart. In Lamentations 3:32-33 he speaks of the judgment that God has brought upon Jerusalem: "Though he causes grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve the sons of men." The word "willingly" translates a composite Hebrew word (milibo) which means literally "from his heart" (cf. 1 Kings 12:33). It appears that this is Jeremiah's way of saying that God does will the affliction that he caused, but he does not will it in the same way he wills compassion. The affliction did not come "from his heart." Jeremiah was trying, as we are, to come to terms with the way a sovereign God wills two different things, affliction and compassion.

This is all trying to answer the question of Turretinfan on what I mean when I say, "desire/wish." Turretinfan and James White both try and undercut this by answering a question with a question. They both ask, (my loose quotation) "Are you stating that God is somehow disappointed or frustrated with the fact that something he desired did not come to pass?"

To be honest, I will stick with Murray on this and say that it is a mystery how this comes to pass.

The way that Piper explains this mystery is as such:

Putting it in my own words, Edwards said that the infinite complexity of the divine mind is such that God has the capacity to look at the world through two lenses. He can look through a narrow lens or through a wide-angle lens. When God looks at a painful or wicked event through his narrow lens, he sees the tragedy or the sin for what it is in itself and he is angered and grieved. "I do not delight in the death of anyone, says the Lord God" (Ezekiel 18:32). But when God looks at a painful or wicked event through his wide-angle lens, he sees the tragedy or the sin in relation to everything leading up to it and everything flowing out from it. He sees it in all the connections and effects that form a pattern or mosaic stretching into eternity. This mosaic, with all its (good and evil) parts he does delight in (Psalm 115:3).
John Piper

So, to end this questioning, I believe and have found the Reformers to believe the same. Namely, that God's emotions are complex and we cannot understand them fully, but I do adhere to the fact that God does indeed desire/wish with deep compassion that all men be saved, but in his eternal secretive decree has chosen some and passed over others for his glory. To get a quick understanding of the two wills theory, please read Piper in its entirety here.

If James White or Turretinfan believe in these facts of God's actual desire/wish for all men to be saved (Ezekiel 18; Ezekiel 33; 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9 and John 3:16) then I will retract what I have stated.


Brian @ voiceofthesheep said...

Seth, does God bring to pass all that He intends/purposes to do?

Seth McBee said...


I think I know your question. I will try and answer it quickly.

Hopefully you take the above post in consideration for my answer.

I do not believe that if God purposes something in his secretive will that it can be thwarted.

I do draw a line though between desire/wish and purpose.

This is exactly Piper's point when he states:

"We must certainly distinguish between what God would like to see happen and what he actually does will to happen."

You see how easy that is to answer a question? Hopefully others will catch on.

Tony Byrne said...


As Seth points out, it depends on what sense you mean by will, desire, intent, or purpose. For example, look at the dynamic way in which Sam Waldron uses it with respect to John 5:34:

NKJ John 5:34 "Yet I do not receive testimony from man, but I say these things that you may be saved.

"'But the witness which I receive is not from man, but I say these things, that you may be saved' (John 5:34). This text epitomizes the crux of the free offer. That crux is God's indiscriminate desire for the salvation of sinners. The 'these things' of the text refer to the testimony of John the Baptist to the messianic dignity of Jesus (John 5:33, 35-36). The phrase, 'that you may be saved', states Jesus' goal in mentioning the testimony of John. This clause begins with one of the most important Greek words which express purpose. His true purpose in alluding to the testimony of John is not to defend himself, but to save his hearers. The pronoun 'you' clarifies those who are the objects of Jesus' saving intention. This pronoun in this context plainly refers to the 'Jews' (cf. John 5:18-19, 33 with 1:19-24). Throughout this Gospel this designation refers to the Jewish leaders (5:10, 15, 16, 18, 33; 1:19-24; 9:22). The character of these 'Jews' is abundantly clear. They were those who, though blessed with great light (5:35), had ultimately rejected that light (5:38-47). These men were no ordinary sinners, but murderers who would bring about Jesus' death (5:16, 18; 18:12, 14, 31, 36, 38; 19:7, 12, 38; 20:19). The destiny of many of them, at least, was to die under the wrath of God (John 8:21, 24; Matt. 12:24, 31; 24:15-28; Luke 21:20-24; 1 Thess. 2:14-16). This very, in fact, teaches that these Jews, having rejected the true Messiah, would receive false messiahs (John 5:43). The phrase, 'I say', emphasizes that it was no one less than God's eternal Son (John 1:18; 5:18-26) and God's eternal Word who uttered these sentiments (John 1:1; 5:19, 43). Given this emphasis of the Gospel of John, we must recognize that Jesus here reveals God's heart and God's will (John 12:49-50; 14:10. 24; 17:8)."

Samuel E. Waldron, Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith (Evangelical Press, 1989), pp. 121-122.

Beelzebub's tongue will freeze to a flag pole in the deepest caverns of Gehenna before James White would presently speak as Waldron does here, particularly on this passage. Why anyone is predending like there is even a hint of agreement between these two men on the subject of God's universal saving will beyond me!

Waldron is quite comfortable enough to refer to God's revealed will in John 5:34 as a "desire," "purpose" (twice), "intention," "God's heart," "God's will," and "God's earnest desire." In the remaining portion on page 122, Waldron also refers to God's "wish." He's also VERY clear that the objects of this wish, purpose, desire, will and intention include those who finally perished, as is Dr. Robert Gonzales (pastor of Covenant Reformed Baptist Church and contributor to the Reformed Baptist Theological Review [RBTR]) in his treatment of the same very same passage.

Reforming Baptist said...

Thanks for posting these articles about God's desire. I found them very useful in preparation for Sunday School tomorrow. we will be discussing election, and i know that verse in 2 Pet 3 is bound to come up.

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