Roy Ingle, “The Secret Will of God”

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For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and the one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time. – 1 Timothy 2:3-6 (NKJV)

Arminianism reads passages such as John 3:16 or 1 Timothy 2:3-6 or 2 Peter 3:9 and has no trouble accepting the biblical teaching that God’s will is for all to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. Arminians stress that the gospel must be proclaimed to all men (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15) and that all men can be saved by the prevenient grace of God (the pre-conversion, enabling, empowering grace of God; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 2:11-14; 3:5-7) but God does not force anyone to believe but allows men to either succumb to His grace or reject His grace (Matthew 23:37 in context is speaking about Yahweh’s love for Israel but the nature of the situation is still the same as salvation; Acts 7:51; Romans 11:22-23; 2 Corinthians 6:1-2). The elect, therefore, are those who accept the Son (John 3:18; Romans 8:29-30; 1 Timothy 4:10; 1 Peter 1:2; 1 John 4:15; 5:10-13). As Robert Shank wrote, “We are elect in the elected Son” (see 1 Peter 1:20-21).

The two-wills theory is often offered by Calvinist theologians to explain the revealed will of God in the Scripture and then the mysterious and secret will of God in election. In Calvin’s mind a sovereign God could save all (universalism) but He has chosen to save only those in His Son (redemption through His blood; Ephesians 1:7). And since God is absolutely sovereign, He therefore chose to elect from all time and eternity those whom He predestined in His Son (Ephesians 1:3-14). The Fall of Man, being foreseen by the Father (and to some Calvinists, caused by the Father’s will and plan) rendered Man dead in our sins and totally depraved (Ephesians 2:1-3), meaning that apart from the gracious choice of God, no one could possibly be saved (John 1:12-13). The elect, in Calvinism, are those predestined by God to believe in His Son and be saved from the power and guilt of sin (1 Thessalonians 1:4; 2:12; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14). Faith is a gift given to the elect.

Yet how is Calvinism to deal with the “whosoever” or “all” passages? The answer for John Calvin and Calvinist theologians is to appeal to the two wills of God. The revealed will in Scripture is for God to save all who would come to Him through His Son. Thus, Calvinists have no trouble reading John 3:16 or 1 Timothy 2:3-6 or 4:10 or 2 Peter 3:9 or 1 John 2:1-2 because they do believe that the gospel is to be preached to all (Romans 10:14-17). Even Calvinists do not deny the Great Commission of Jesus Christ (Luke 24:47). But how are we to reconcile the “all” passages within the context of divine and sovereign election? The Calvinist answer is the secret will of God.

Looking for the Secret Will of God

A reader of the New Testament will be hard pressed to find the two wills of God without any understanding of Calvinism. It is simply not there. It is there only in the minds of Calvinist theologians. You will not find any veiled references to the will of God, only the clear statements of Scripture concerning the will of God.

Arminians like to point out the usage of the word “permissive” when it comes to the will of God. For example, 2 Peter 3:9. Arminians point out that it is not God’s will for anyone to perish but that all should come to repentance. Calvinists point out that if this were the revealed will of God, all would be saved since He is sovereign. Calvinists often teach that Arminianism leads to universalism since God’s will cannot be halted. God’s will will come to pass (Psalm 115:3). If God so wills all to be saved, all will be saved. However, the Bible makes it clear that only those in Christ Jesus will be saved (John 14:6). Therefore, 2 Peter 3:9 is not the actual will of God but only His desired will. The secret will according to election renders 2 Peter 3:9 not as a promise but simply a desire of God put in human language.

Arminians, on the other hand, point out that this is indeed the will of God but God does not force anyone to believe. All are called to repent and become disciples of Jesus (Acts 2:38; 3:19; 17:30). The door to salvation is for all people but only those who come through faith in Jesus Christ are truly saved. Those who go to hell go to hell by their own choice and not by the elected choice of God. God’s heart is for all to repent (Luke 13:1-5) and become true disciples of Jesus (1 John 2:3-6). And thus God wills that all would be saved but He allows us to make the choice to either accept or reject His Son. to choose heaven or hell. Thus, God permits people to go to hell by their own choosing although His heart is for them to choose life in His Son (John 10:10).

[Link to original post and comments at Roy Ingle’s website]