Does God desire people to do his revealed will?
It is clear that God’s commands, calls and revelation to his creatures are his will (1 Thess. 4:2,3; Matt 6:10; Matt 7:21; Matt 12:50; Rom 12:2, etc.). What is not as well known is that in the original languages of scripture (Hebrew and Greek) ‘will’ can be, and sometimes is, translated as ‘desire’ in reference to God (Ps. 51:16; 68:16; Hos. 6:6) .
The Old Testament commonly uses the Hebrew words abhah and ratzone to express God willing something. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (vol. 4, p. 3,085) gives the accepted meaning of these words as ‘to breathe after’, ‘to long for’, and ‘good-will’, ‘wilfullness’, respectively.
There are also several places in the Old Testament where God speaks to His people in the optative voice in Hebrew (Deut. 5:29; 32:29; Ps. 81:13-16; Isa. 48:18). The optative, according to the Oxford Engliish Dictionary (1971), expresses ‘a wish or desire’. Thus, God reveals His will as a wish: “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!”
The New Testament commonly uses the Greek words boulomai and thelo to speak of God’s will, which The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (vol. 3, ed. Colin Brown, 1971, p. 1015) translates as ‘to will, wish, want, desire’ and ‘wish, want, desire, will, take pleasure in,’ respectively.
While not all human language can be directly applied to God (which no doubt is why translators only infrequently predicate ‘desire’ of God), yet ‘desire’ is an aspect of the will, something that persons made in God’s image share in common with our personal God. The question is: Is there any aspect of God’s will that the English word ‘desire’ appropriately describes?
While God never changes, is perfectly blessed of Himself, all of his perfections are infinite, He does not need the creature in any way, is not acted upon by (nor is impelled to react to) his creatures, does not have passions (WCF 2.1, that is, any physical or emotional fluctuations that act upon Him), and all of his eternal decrees always come to pass and are irresistible (WCF 3,5), yet, of his good and loving nature, He positively and graciously wills things of his creatures (WCF 1.1; 3.8; 19.6-7; 21.1,3; 25.6) as personal beings that He has not sovereignly chosen to bring to pass, as his creatures often resist and do not do his revealed will (LC #68,105; Directory of Public Worship, Prayer Before the Sermon). Yet God earnestly wills what his creatures will not do.
And what better word is there in the English language to express something that truly is God’s will, though He permits volitional creatures to will contrary to it, but ‘desire’?
The 55+ historic reformed theologians below thought it was appropriate to speak of God desiring his revealed will to be done, it expressing a meaningful aspect of God’s will that is not adequately described otherwise. For systematic articulations of what God’s ‘desiring’ entails, see especially the Westminster divine Samuel Rutherford **, Jonathan Edwards, the Free Church of Scotland ministers Robert Candlish and R.A. Finlayson, and the Westminster Seminary professor John Murray.
A second question presents itself:
When God calls the unconverted to come to Christ through the Gospel (Jer. 7:13; Matt 11:28; Rev. 22:17; John 5:34, Prov. 8:3-4; Prov. 9:3-5, etc.), is it his will and does He desire that gospel hearers should come to Christ and be saved?
The following 28 theologians say yes: Luther, Calvin, Polyander, Sibbes, Rutherford **, Burgess **, Dickson, Swinnock, Manton, Brown, Clark, Turretin, Flavel, Henry, Halyburton, Willison, Erskine, Edwards, M’Cheyne, Chalmers, Burns, Fairbairn, Crawford, Kennedy, Vos, Murray, Berkhof, Finlayson.
Lastly, a third question arises:
If God desires his commands to be done, and if He commands and calls the whole world to come to Christ and to repent and be saved (Acts 17:30; Isa. 45:22; Ps. 100:1,2; Rev. 22:17; Mt 17:5; Mk. 16:15), then does God desire the salvation of all people and is not willing that any should perish? (Eze. 18:23,32; 2 Pet. 3:9).
That God desires the salvation of all people is affirmed below by the following 11 theologians: Martin Bucer, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Mayer, Ezekiel Culverwell, James Durham, Andrew Fuller, Charles Hodge, Herman Bavinck and R.A. Finlayson. This shows that John Murray reflected a significant portion of historic reformed theology when he argued for this position from scripture.
Our passions are too weak in comparison to God’s holy, burning desire that mankind sinners come to Him and be saved!
A Collection of Quotes (15)
Including quotes from the early reformed theologians: Calvin, Wollebius, Ursinus, Seegedin, Polanus, Walaeus, Hottinger, Braun, Heidan, Pictet, and Turretin; as well as the later reformed theolgians: Venema, Cunningham, Crawford, and Dagg.
Historic Refomed Quotes (50)
** – denotes a Westminster divine
Martin Bucer 1523 John Bunyan 1688
Martin Luther 1525 John Flavel 1689
The First Helvetic Confession 1536 Matthew Henry 1708
John Calvin 1541 Thomas Halyburton 1721
Peter Martyr Vermigli 1563 John Willison 1747
Henry Bullinger 1575 Ebenezer Erskine 1754
The Geneva Bible Notes 1599 Jonathan Edwards †1758
Amandus Polanus 1610 John Gill 1771
The Leiden Synopsis 1624 Andrew Fuller 1815
John Boys 1629 Charles Simeon †1836
John Mayer 1631 Robert Murray M’Cheyne 1843
Richard Sibbes 1638 Thomas Chalmers 1847
Samuel Rutherford 1647 ** Robert Candlish 1867
Ezekiel Culverwell 1648 William S. Plumer 1867
The Westminster Annotations 1651 William C. Burns 1868
Anthony Burgess 1652 ** Patrick Fairbairn 1874
David Dickson 1653 Charles Hodge †1878
John Trapp 1657 John Kennedy †1884
George Hutcheson 1657 William G.T. Shedd 1894
James Durham 1658 Geerhardus Vos 1902
George Swinnock 1671 Herman Bavinck 1921
Thomas Manton 1677 John Murray 1948
John Brown of Wamphray 1677 Louis Berkhof 1951
Samuel Clark 1683 R.A. Finlayson 1954
Francis Turretin 1687 Ian Hamilton 2004
Martin Bucer 1523
Instruction in Christian Love, 1523, translated by Paul Fuhrmann, reprinted by Wipf and Stock, 2008
Thus man has become selfish. He serves only himself and seeks but his own interest. Now man not only does not attain what he seeks, but he has deprived and daily deprives himself of all the benefits and joys which he might and should have from all creatures. For, just as God deals with perverse men according to their perversity (Psalm 18:27), so also all other creatures turn with God against the perverse. According to His nature, God does good abundantly and wishes to make every man blessed¹ (1 Tim. 2:4) [“Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”]
[¹ Footnote #85: German: ‘selig’. See note 82. ²]
[² Footnote #82: German: ‘saeligkeit’, from ‘sal’, a hall or large lower room in ancient German houses, hence possession of goods therein; or from Old German ‘sael’, that is, ‘heil’ hence possession of ‘heil’, for which see note #32. ‘Saeligkeit’ is the possession and enjoyment of the grand total of spiritual goods.]
But if men turn away from God, He must chastise and condemn them; and therein all creatures help their Creator…
Martin Luther 1525
The Bondage of the Will, Henry Cole, 1823?
It is the Gospel voice, and the sweetest consolation to miserable sinners, where Ezekiel says, “I desire not the death of a sinner, but rather, that he should be converted and live,” and it is in all respects like unto that of Psalm 30:5.; “For His wrath is but for a moment, in His willingness is life.” And that of Psalm 36:7, “How sweet is thy loving-kindness, O God.” Also, “For I am merciful,” and that of Christ, (Matt 11:28) “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” And also that of Exodus 20:6, ” I will shew mercy unto thousands of them that love me.”
And what is more than half of the Holy Scripture, but mere promises of grace, by which, mercy, life, peace, and salvation, are extended from God unto men? And what else is the whole word of promise but this: — “I desire not the death of a sinner?” Is not His saying, ” I am merciful,” the same as saying, I am not angry, I am unwilling to punish, I desire not your death, My will is to pardon, My will is to spare? And if there were not these divine promises standing, by which consciences, afflicted with a sense of sin and terrified at the fear of death and judgment, might be raised up, what place would there be for pardon or for hope! What sinner would not sink, in despair! But as “Free-will” is not proved from any of the other words of mercy, of promise, and of comfort, so neither is it from this:— ” I desire not the death of a sinner,” etc.
Hence, you see, this word, ” I desire not the death of a sinner,” does nothing else but preach and offer divine mercy to the world, which none receive with joy and gratitude but those who are distressed and exercised with the fears of death, for they are they in whom the law has now done its office, that is, in bringing them to the knowledge of sin. But they who have not yet experienced the office of…
Therefore it is rightly said, ‘if God does not desire our death, it is to be laid to the charge of our own will, if we perish:’ this, I say, is right, if you speak of GOD PREACHED. For He desires that all men should be saved, seeing that, He comes unto all by the word of salvation, and it is the fault of the will which does not receive Him: as He saith. (Matt 23:37) “How often would I have gathered thy children together, and thou wouldest not!”
The First Helvetic Confession 1536
5. The Objective of Scripture
The principle intent of all canonical Scripture is that God wishes to be good to mankind, and that He has declared that benevolence through Christ, His only Son. This kindness comes to us and is received by faith alone, but this faith is effective through love for our neighbors. (Gen. 3; John 3; Eph. 2)
John Calvin 1541
These quotes are in addition to those in the Collection of Quotes link above. For John Calvin’s very strong statements on 2 Pet. 3:9, see R.A. Finlayson’s analysis at the bottom of this page.
Calvin’s Catechism, from Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation, Vol. 1, 152-1552, compiled with introductions by James T. Dennison, Jr. (Reformation Heritage Books, 2008), p. 469-70
8. To consider these things in order, and explain them more fully—what is the first point?
To rely upon God.
9. How can we do that?
First by knowing Him as almighty and perfectly good.
10. Is this enough?
Because we are unworthy that He should show His power in helping us, or employ His goodness toward us.
12. What more then is required?
That we be certain that He loves us, and desires to be our Father, and Savior.
Commentary on John 3:16,17
“For God so loved the world.” …So we must see from where Christ came to us, and why He was offered to be our Savior. Both points are distinctly stated to us: namely, that faith in Christ brings life to all, and that Christ brought life, because the Heavenly Father loves the human race, and wishes that they should not perish…
Commentary on Luke 19:14
And wept over it. As there was nothing which Christ more ardently desired than to execute the office which the Father had committed to Him, and as He knew that the end of his calling was to gather the lost sheep of the house of Israel, (Matthew 15:24), He wished that his coming might bring salvation to all. This was the reason why He was moved with compassion, and wept over the approaching destruction of the city of Jerusalem. For while He reflected that this was the sacred abode which God had chosen, in which the covenant of eternal salvation should dwell–the sanctuary from which salvation would go forth to the whole world, it was impossible that He should not deeply deplore its ruin. And when He saw the people, who had been adopted to the hope of eternal life, perish miserably through their ingratitude and wickedness, we need not wonder if he could not refrain from tears.
Commentary on Eze. 18:23
He confirms the same sentiment in other words, that God desires nothing more earnestly than that those who were perishing and rushing to destruction should return into the way of safety. And for this reason not only is the Gospel spread abroad in the world, but God wished to bear witness through all ages how inclined He is to pity. For although the heathen were destitute of the law and the prophets, yet they were always endued with some taste of this doctrine. Truly enough they were suffocated by many errors: but we shall always find that they were induced by a secret impulse to seek for pardon, because this sense was in some way born with them, that God is to be appeased by all who seek Him. Besides, God bore witness to it more clearly in the law and the prophets. In the Gospel we hear how familiarly He addresses us when he promises us pardon. (Luke 1:78.) And this is the knowledge of salvation, to embrace his mercy which he offers us in Christ. It follows, then, that what the prophet now says is very true, that God wills not the death of a sinner, because He meets him of his own accord, and is not only prepared to receive all who fly to his pity, but He calls them towards Him with a loud voice, when He sees how they are alienated from all hope of safety. But the manner must be noticed in which God wishes all to be saved, namely, when they turn themselves from their ways. God thus does not so wish all men to be saved as to renounce the difference between good and evil; but repentance, as we have said, must precede pardon. How, then, does God wish all men to be saved? By the Spirit’s condemning the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment at this day, by the Gospel, as he did formerly by the law and the prophets. (John 16:8.) God makes manifest to mankind their great misery, that they may betake themselves to Him: He wounds that he may cure, and slays that He may give life. We hold, then, that; God wills not the death of a sinner, since He calls all equally to repentance, and promises himself prepared to receive them if they only seriously repent.
Peter Martyr Vermigli 1563
Whether God is the Author of Sin, in Philosophical Works, trans., by Joseph P. McLelland, (Kirksville, Missouri: Sixteenth Century Essays and Studies, 1994), 4:217
In the last chapter of 2 Chronicles there is a specific place where the cause of the destruction of Jerusalem is given, and ascribed to the sins of the people. God is denied to be the author of sin so much that He declares that He wished that things were different. Hence the cause must not be ascribed to God. “He sent his prophets to them persistently,” it says, “but they hardened their heart.” (2 Chron 36:15ff) Christ wept over the city of Jerusalem; He was sorry for its overthrow (Matt. 23:37). If the effect displeased Him, much more the cause; He wept because they sinned and so deserved utter destruction. If Christ mourned, being not only human but also truly divine, He was displeased with its sins; therefore God is not the author of sin.
Henry Bullinger 1504 – 1575
The Decades of Henry Bullinger, vol. 1, ed. Harding, Reformation Heritage Books, 2004, p. 125
The First Decade, The Apostle’s Creed, The Seventh Sermon
For God has created us, God loves us, God regards our affairs, and is careful for us; yea, and that more exceedingly too than any earthly father is. For says David: “Even as the father pities his children, so does the Lord pity them that fear Him: for He knows our estate, remembering that we are but dust” (Ps. 103:14,15). Isaiah also in his 49th chapter [v. 15] says: “Can a woman forget her own infant, and not pity and be fain over the son of her own womb? But admit she do forget; yet will not I forget you.” In this is declared God’s good-will to us-ward: and we, confessing that God is our Father, do also profess that God to us is both gentle, liberal, and merciful, who wishes us all things that are available to our health, and purposes nothing to us-ward but that which is good and wholesome; and, last of all, that at his hand we receive what good soever we have, either bodily or ghostly.
The Geneva Bible Notes 1599
Because the Levites who kept the doors did not test whether the sacrifices that came in were according to the Law, God wishes that they would rather shut the doors, than to receive such as were not perfect.
Amandus Polanus 1610
as summarized and quoted in Heinrich Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics, 1861, revised and edited by Ernst Bizer, English translation by G.T. Thompson, 1950, reprinted 2007 by Wipf and Stock. The words not in quotes are Heppe’s. The word in quotation marks are Polanus’s.
p. 95 of Heppe
“The love of God is the essential property or essence of God, whereby delighting Himself in it He wishes it [the creature] the good which He approves.” To be distinguished are the “general love of God”, the object of which is creation generally, so that “no one either of men or even of demons may say that he is not loved of God”; God hates the sin in the godless, but loves the nature created by Him—and the “special love of God, by which He peculiarly pursues the separate elect” (Polanus, The Substance of the Christian Religion, II, 122).
The Leiden Synopsis of Pure Theology 1624
Johannes Polyander, Disputation 22, On the Gospel, Thesis 12-13, 25, p. 561
12. The impelling cause whereby God within Himself moves to declare the Gospel is God’s unrestricted mercy and goodwill with which he purposed to embrace the wretched human race that had fallen into sin by the guilt of Adam.
13. The object to which God reveals his unrestricted mercy and goodwill in his Gospel is the wretched human race that had fallen headlong into deadly sin by the Devil’s deception, and to which God announced the grace of his redemption, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly.
25. The destruction of unbelievers, however, is not a goal of the Gospel; that is an unconnected outcome from elsewhere, from their sins. For in his Gospel God God declares that He takes no delight in the destruction of any sinner, but He delights in transferring everyone to salvation through repentance and faith from the power of darkness into the kingdom of his beloved Son, Jesus Christ.
John Boys 1629
The Works of John Boys, 1629, reprinted in 1997 by Soli Deo Gloria, from the 1854, New York edition, p. 663-4, Boys was a Doctor of Divinity and the Dean of Canterbury
The next point to be further examined, is, the cause why Christ did weep. And that is the consideration of Jerusalem’s estate, both in respect of her present sins, and future punishment. “When He was come near to Jerusalem, He beheld the city, and wept on it.” Here we may learn many good lessons…
Thirdly, this teaches us to love our enemies, and to pray for them who persecute us. It is certain Christ knew that He should be crucified in Jerusalem, and yet He desired their good, who sought and wrought his hurt.
“O if thou hadst known.”…
Christ then wished unto Jerusalem: 1. Understanding and knowledge. 2. Such a knowledge as was profitable to know those things which belong unto peace. 3. Seasonable knowledge: even in this thy day. As if He should say, will ye know why I weep? It is because thou knowest not the time of thy visitation, “therefore do I weep”…
…For when He would often have gathered her children together, as the hen gathers her chickens under her wings, they would not [Matt 23:37], but obstinately rejected Him, and betrayed Him, and denied Him, and in fine crucified Him. Acts 3:13,15
John Mayer 1631
Commentary on the Whole Bible
vol. 1, London, p. 495-498, on 2 Tim. 2:4-6
There is then another exposition, understanding by God’s will, his delight and desire, out of the infinite goodness and benignity of his nature: For this is, that all and every one should be saved, according to the reason by and by rendered, for there is one God, who created and made all men, and therefore as they are his own creatures, his will is, that they should all be saved, and not one of them damned. For this is also added by Saint Peter, God is patient towards all men, not willing that any should perish, but all come to repentance [2 Pet. 3:9]. And by the Prophet Ezekiel the Lord professes, I will not the death of him that dyeth, wherefore turn ye and live [Eze. 18:32]: these words, I will not, are by [Immanuel] Tremellius [1510-1580] rendered, non delector, I am not delighted, and in the original, it is לא אהםצ, I love not.
Note again, that though the Lord damns many to hell, yet He is not willing so to do, his desire is rather, that all should repent and be saved, as He declares by sending the means amongst them.
Richard Sibbes 1638
The Fountain Opened, in The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1863), 5:506-507
Christ, as it were, became a beggar himself, and the great God of heaven and earth begs our love [see 2 Cor. 5:20], that we would so care for our own souls that we would be reconciled unto Him. It was fitter, indeed, that we should beg of him. It was fit we should seek to be reconciled to him, but God so stoops in the dispensation and ministry of the gospel, that He becomes a beggar and suitor to us to be good to our souls. As if he had offended us, He desires us to be reconciled. The wrong is done on our part, yet He so far transcends the doubtings of man’s nature, that He would have nothing to cause man’s heart to misgive, no doubts or scruples to arise. He Himself becomes a beseecher of reconciliation, as if He were the party that had offended. This is the manner of the publication of the gospel.
Samuel Rutherford ** 1647
Christ Dying and Drawing Sinners to Himself, p. 443-45 [irregular pagination: colophon lll2-lll3] and 440-42 [colophon: Kkk4-Lll1]
It’s much worthy of observation, how that sweet evangelic invitation is conceived, Isa. 55:1, Ho, everyone that thirsts, come to the waters, and he that hath no silver, come buy, and eat: as if the Lord were grieved, and said, Woe is me, Alas that thirsty souls should die in their thirst, and will not come to the water of life, Christ, and drink gratis, freely, and live. For the interjection, Ho, is a mark of sorrowing, as ah, or woe, everyone that thirsts. It expresses two things,
1. A vehemency and a serious and unfeigned ardency of desire that we do what is our duty, and the concatenation of these two, extremely desired of God, our coming to Christ and our salvation. This moral connection between faith and salvation is desired of God with his will of approbation, complacency, and moral liking, without all dissimulation, most unfeignedly; and whereas Arminians say, we make counterfeit, feigned, and hypocritical desires in God, they calumniate and cavil egregiously, as their custom is.
[Margin Note: The Lord’s wishes, expostulations and crying, bold forth, how earnest He is in drawing sinners to Himself.]
Now this desire of approbation is an abundantly sufficient closing of the mouth of such as stumble at the gospel, being appointed thereunto, and an expression of Christ’s good liking to save sinners:
1. Expressed in his borrowed wishes, Deut. 5:29. O that there were such a heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep my commandments. Ps. 81:13. O that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel walked in my ways. Which wish, as relating to disobeying Israel, is a figure, or metaphor borrowed from men, but otherwise shows how acceptable the duty is to God, how obligatory to the creature.
3. In the Lord’s crying to sinners, Prov. 1:20. Wisdom cries, she uttereth her voice in the streets. The word is to cry with strong shouting, either for joy, Ps. 81:2, or sorrow, Lam. 2:19, which expresses Christ’s desire to save sinners.
[Margin note: A threefold love in God effectual.]
2. There is a second love and mercy in God, by which He loves all men and angels, yea, even his enemies, makes the sun to shine on the unjust man as well as the just, and causes dew and rain to fall on the orchard and fields of the bloody and deceitful man, whom the Lord abhors, as Christ teaches us,Matt. 5:43-48. Nor does God miscarry in this love. He desires the eternal being of damned angels and men; he sends the gospel to many reprobates, and invites them to repentance and with longanimity and forbearance suffers pieces of froward dust to fill the measure of their iniquity, yet does not the Lord’s general love fall short of what He wills to them.
Ezekiel Culverwell 1648
A Treatise of Faith, p. 184-186
“That God would have no man to perish, but would have all men come to repentance [2 Pet. 3:9]; and so oft. That He desires not the death of a sinner [Eze. 18:23,32], that hereby he may be moved to seek and hope for that mercy, which God is so willing to bestow upon him, if the fault be not in his ownself, as it was in the unbelieving Jews in Jerusalem, of whom our Saviour complained, saying, How often would I have gathered thy Children, as the Hen gathereth her Chickens under her wings, and ye would not? [Matt 23:37]”
The Westminster Annotations 1651
Second edition, Mr. Meric Casaubon was the commentator
Ps. 81:13 – “Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways!”
O that my people had hearkened unto me. God shows, that the obedience of his people is as pleasing to Him, as things wished for are to men, Deut. 5:29, Isa. 48:18. See before upon the title of the Psalm 72 of God’s conditional promises, out of Ezek. 33:13, etc.
Anthony Burgess **
Spiritual Refining: or A Treatise of Grace and Assurance, 1652 (reprint edition: Ames, Iowa, 1990)
Sermon 66, “Showing that the Damnation of Wicked Men is unpleasing to God, and that which He delights not in.” p. 403-408
Then the answer is known, which may easily be made good, though it be not my work now, God has an approving will, and an effective or decreeing will. God’s approving will is carried out to the objects, as good in itself; but God’s effective will is, when He intends to bring a thing about. God had an approving will, that Adam should stand, therefore He gave him a command, and threatened him if he did fall; yet He had not an effective will, to make him to stand, for then who could have hindered it? Thus Christ’s tears over Jerusalem (How often would I have gathered thee, and thou wouldest not?) were not Crocodiles’ tears (as some say the Calvinists make them) for though Christ, as God, had not decreed the conversion of the Jews, yet the thing it self was approved of, and commanded, and He as the Minister of the New Testament, affectionately desired it: So here in the Text, God by this pathetical expression, does declare, how acceptable and desireable a thing it is in itself, that the Jews should be converted; how distasteful and unpleasant their damnation was: therefore mark the expression, He does not say, I do not will the death of the wicked, but I have no pleasure in it: And if that of the Arminians be true, that God does effectually will the conversion of all, why then are not all converted? Who hath resisted his will? but I intend grapes, and not thorns; practical not controversal matter from this Text.
This text [Eze. 33:11] has informed us how unpleasing the death of a wicked man is to God. We now proceed to the inference made from that proposition, Therefore the wicked should turn from his evil ways. Turn ye, turn ye. The ingemination [repetition] denotes the vehement affection and desire of God, as also our stupidity and love to our sins, when once [God is] calling we will not awaken, but we must over and over again be called upon.
But God after all the despite and disdain done unto Him, is willing to be reconciled: this goodness and mercy of God should abundantly change your heart. And certainly you do not seriously and fully ponder these things in your heart, if you did, you would not a moment longer stay from running to Him: You would not only turn, but run to Him; Draw us, and we will run after you, prays the Church, Cant. 1. God does not only powerfully over-rule the soul, but so sweetly inclines it to delight in good and holy objects, that when the heart has once tasted of the goodness of God, nothing can keep it from Him: Seeing therefore your turning unto God is so acceptable to Him, is so vehemently desired by Him, Why should it not make you shake off all slothfulness, and address yourself to Him?
David Dickson Dickson was a co-author with James Durham of the Sum of Saving Knowledge, which is often published along with the Westminster Standards **
Commentary on the Psalms, p. 254-255
“Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways!”
From the Lord’s lamenting, Learn further [4 points]:
3. He who hears God uttering His wishes for the conversion of His people [Israel], and lamenting that His Word is not believed, and that His offer of grace is not received, does give God an evil meeting, and neither believes God’s goodness, nor cares for his own salvation, except he join with God, lamenting his own misbelief in time past, and do with heartily the same with God for his own conversion for time to come; for this speech, O that my people had hearkened unto me, etc., is framed to this very end, to make the hearer willing, and so to convert him, or else to convict him, if he take not hold of the offer.
John Trapp 1657
Commentary on the Whole Bible
Ps. 81:13, 1657
Verse 13. Oh that my people had hearkened unto me. A wish after the manner of men; to set forth God’s great desire of our welfare, which He here utters, as it were, with a sigh and a groan.
Eze. 33:11, 1660
Well might Nazianzen say that God delights in nothing so much as in man’s conversion and salvation. Tertullian:suffundere mavult sanguinem quam effundere [He prefers to pour out blood in sacrifice than to shed it]. φοβεισθαι βουλεται, ου φονευσαι, says Basil – i.e. [as translated], He would we should fear Him, not fall by his hand. Redire nos sibi, non perire desiderat [He desires us to return unto Him, not to perish], as Chrysologus phrases it, return unto Him, not “perish from the way.” [Psalms 2:12]
George Hutcheson 1657
Commentary on the Minor Prophets
For, ‘I desired mercy, etc’ says He, not only commanded but desired it, as a thing wherein I take pleasure, as the word signifies… In which respect, his not desiring sacrifice is not to be understood simply, as if the Lord did not approve, even of the external performances which were enjoined by Himself; but comparatively, that He desired moral duties more than burnt-offerings, as it is in the next sentence.
James Durham 1658
“It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that Durham (1622-1658) teaches that God desires the salvation of all men.”
– Dr. Donald Maclean, James Durham and the Free Offer of the Gospel, Puritan Reformed Journal, vol. 2, #1, Jan. 2010, p. 92-121, 29 pages
The Unsearchable Riches of Christ, 1764, Glasgow, reprinted Soli Deo Gloria, Buy 2002, Sermon 3, ‘Gospel Presentations are the Strongest Invitations’ Matt 22:4, ‘All things are ready; come to the marriage.’ Page 44.
The observations are these… The fifth is that the Master of the feast, the King, God the Father, and the King’s Son, the Bridegroom, are not only content and willing, but very desirous to have sinners come to the marriage. They would fain [desire] (to speak with reverence) have poor souls espoused to Christ…
George Swinnock 1671
The Door of Salvation Opened by the Key of Regeneration, 1671 edition, p. 177
The Incomparableness of God, in his Works, 4:493-497, Banner of Truth edition
He does not say, If you will satisfy my justice, answer the demands of my law, merit my love and favor, then I will be your God. No; He Himself has done all this for you by the death of his Son; all He desires is, that you would accept Him in his Son for your God…
…Now, reader, ponder it seriously, it is wholly for your own good, that you may escape wrath and death, and attain heaven and life, that God is pleased once more to offer Himself to you. What is your mind about his offer? Will you have Him for your portion or no? Is there anything unreasonable in his desire or demands? Does not your eternal felicity depend on your acceptance of Him?
Thomas Manton wrote the Epistle to the Reader that prefaces most editions of the Westminster Standards **
Works, Volume 21, p. 463-479, Sermons 2 on Eze. 18:23
Use 2. Of Exhortation.
To exhort you to repent and turn to the Lord. The Lord desires not the destruction of a sinner. God does not deny the sentence, or retract the law, only it is not his delight. Some abuse it to hopes of impunity [exemption from punishment], or at least to delay.
First, To hopes of impunity. Though God does not with an antecedent will desire the death of a sinner, yet with a consequent will He does, upon supposition of their sin and obstinate rebellion against Him. Will you then grow the bolder in sinning because of God’s mercy? This is to suck poison out of the sweetest flower. ‘He will by no means clear the guilty,’ Ex. 37:6; ‘He will wound the hairy scalp of all such as go on in their trespasses,’ Ps. 68:21. The pit is a-digging; sentence is given, but not executed, Eccles. 8:11; condemned already, John 3:18; forbearance is not remission: Rom. 9:22, ‘He endures with much long-suffering, the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction.’ Here is suffering, long-suffering, and much long-suffering, yet all this while fitted to destruction…
…If a malefactor arraigned at the bar should perceive by any speech or gesture, sign or token, any inclination in the judge to show mercy, how would he work upon that advantage? what suit, what means would he make for his life? how would he importune all his friends to entreat for him; fall down upon his knees, and beg for his life? God makes an overture of his mercy; discovers [reveals] a desire to pardon you, yea, he stretches out his hands all the day long [Isa. 65:2]; why do we not make means to Him? Time was when the flaming sword was in the way, and the curse of God’s law would have kept thee back, if thou had been never so willing to turn to God; all that thou could do could never have procured the pardon of thy sins past, if thou had never so much lamented and reformed them; but this impediment is taken out of the way, and ‘God is in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not imputing their trespasses to them.’ [2 Cor. 5:19]
John Brown of Wamphray
Christ the Way the Truth and the Life, 1677
Chapter 6, How Christ is Made Use of for Justification, as a Way
[Brown is describing common motions of the Spirit before conversion. See the larger context]
9. The soul essaying thus to believe, in Christ’s strength, and to creep when it can not walk or run, would hold fast what it has attained, and resolve never to recall any consent, or half consent, it has given to the bargain, but still look forward, hold on, wrestle against unbelief, and unwillingness; entertain every good motion of the Spirit for this end, and never admit of any thing, that may quench its longings, desires, or expectation…
Annotations on the New Testament, 1683, London
‘And compel them to come in.’ This notes, (1) God’s bountiful liberality, and earnest desires that all should partake of his grace. (2) The effectual prevailing motions of his Spirit on the hearts of the elect. (3) The importunate persuasions and powerful arguments that ministers should use, 2 Cor. 5:20; 2 Tim. 4:2.
Francis Turretin †1687 This is in addition to what is quoted on the Collection of Quotes link at the top of the page
Institutes of Elenctic Theology, trans. George Musgrave Giger, ed. James T. Dennison, Jr., Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1992-97,
vol. 1, Question 17, p.397
[Turretin is setting up to answer and deny the Amyrauldian proposition that ‘Christ died for all men’ by defining the question and casting out of the discussion things that do not hit the heart of the issue. The things Turretin dismisses, in this case, are things that he approves of, though they do not enter into the question, as Turretin says that the nature of the Amyrauldian proposition cannot be limited to God’s revealed will but necessarily involves his will of decree, which is exactly what’s in dispute]
VIII. (3) The question is not whether there is in God a will commanding and approving faith and the salvation of men; nor whether God in the gospel commands men to believe and repent if they wish to be saved; nor whether it pleases Him for me to believe and be saved. For no one denies that God is pleased with the conversion and life of the sinner rather than with his death. We willingly subscribe to the Synod of Dort, which determines that
“God sincerely and most truly shows in his word, what is pleasing to Him; namely, that they who are called should come to Him” (Acta Synodi Nationalis… Dordrechtis , Pt. I, p. 266).
But the question is whether from such a will approving and commanding what men must do in order to obtain salvation [the revealed will], can be gathered any will or purpose of God by which He intended the salvation of all and everyone under the condition of faith and decreed to send Christ into the world for them [will of decree]. Hence it appears that they wander from the true order of the question [at hand, regarding the death of Christ] who maintain that we treat here only of the will of approbation (euarestias) [the revealed will], but not of the will of good pleasure (eudokias) [the will of decree]. It is evident that we treat not of that which God wishes to be done by us, but what He wills to do for the salvation of men and of the decree of sending Christ for them (which everyone sees belongs to the will of good pleasure [the will of decree] and not to that of approbation [the revealed will]).
vol. 1, p. 14
Although God can be said to will men to be saved who yet are not saved (when it treats of the will of complacency [eurestias] [that is, the revealed will] which commands man’s duty and declares what is pleasing to God), yet this cannot be said equally of the will of decree.
Are you deeply concerned about the greatness of the damage that will certainly overtake you forever, if you are accused before God without Him? Have you told Him what is the matter and how things stand? He desires to hear them from your own mouth. ‘O’, says the soul, ‘Lord, I have come to you upon an earnest business! I am arrested by Satan, my conscience convicts me, and I will be accused before the judgment seat of God… Lord, I am distressed, undertake for me!’
John Flavel 1689
England’s Duty Under the Present Gospel: Eleven Sermons on Revelation 3:20, in The Works of John Flavel, vol. 4, Sermon 6, pp. 113-142, entitled, “Jesus Christ an Earnest Suitor for Union and Communion with the Souls of Sinners”, p. 17
His sorrows and mourning upon the account of the obstinacy and unbelief of sinners, speaks the vehemency of his desire after union with them; it is said, Mark 3:5, “When he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts,” etc. You see from hence, that a hard heart is a grief to Jesus Christ. O how tenderly did Christ resent it, when Jerusalem rejected Him! It is said, Luke 19:41, “That when Jesus came nigh to the city, he wept over it.” The Redeemer’s tears wept over obstinate Jerusalem, spake the zeal and fervency of his affection to their salvation; how loth Christ is to give up sinners. What a mournful voice is that in John 5:40, “And you will not come unto me, that you might have life.” How fain [desirous] would I give you life? but you would rather die than come unto me for it. What can Christ do more to express his willingness? All the sorrows that ever touched the heart of Christ from men, were upon this account, that they would not yield to his calls and invitations.
Matthew Henry 1708
Commentary on the Bible
“O that there were such an 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!”
“3. God’s approbation of their request…
(2) He wishes they were but sincere in it: O that there were such a heart in them! v. 29.
[1.] Such a heart as they should have, a heart to fear God, and keep his commandments for ever. Note, The God of heaven is truly and earnestly desirous of the welfare and salvation of poor sinners. He has given abundant proof that He is so: He gives us time and space to repent, by his mercies invites us to repentance, and waits to be gracious; He has sent his Son to redeem us, published a general offer of pardon and life, promised his Spirit to those that pray for him, and has said and sworn that He has no pleasure in the ruin of sinners.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
(3) Herein God has commended his love to the world: God so loved the world, so really, so richly. Now his creatures shall see that he loves them, and wishes them well. He so loved the world of fallen man as he did not love that of fallen angels; see Rom. v. 8; 1 John iv. 10. Behold, and wonder, that the great God should love such a worthless world! That the holy God should love such a wicked world with a love of good will, when he could not look upon it with any complacency. This was a time of love indeed, Ezek. 16:6,8.
“But I receive not testimony from man: but these things I say, that ye might be saved.”
“…why then did Christ here urge the testimony of John? Why, these things I say, that you may be saved. This He aimed at in all this discourse, to save not his own life, but the souls of others; He produced John’s testimony because, being one of themselves, it was to be hoped that they would hearken to it. Note, First, Christ desires and designs the salvation even of his enemies and persecutors. Secondly, the word of Christ is the ordinary means of salvation. Thirdly, Christ in his word considers our infirmities and condescends to our capacities, consulting not so much what it befits so great a prince to say as what we can bear, and what will be most likely to do us good.”
Thomas Halyburton 1721
The Great Concern of Salvation, in The Works of Thomas Halyburton, 1833 Glasgow, pp. 185-8
(5) We beseech you, in the name of all the glorious Trinity, to grant our demands. We are ambassadors for Christ, and God does beseech you by us. God the Father, and God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, do all join in the supplication. Never were there such three names at a supplication, never such three hands at a petition. O sinners! what hearts have you, if you can refuse the desire, the supplication, the entreaties of a whole Trinity? All the love of the Father, all the grace of the Son, and all the blessings that are enjoyed by communion with the Holy Ghost, all plead with you for your compliance. Can you refuse us [ministers], then, O sinners, O rocks, O hearts harder than rocks?
John Willison 1747
Sacramental Meditations, in The Whole Works of John Willison, 1816, vol. 3, Advice 2, p. 314-316
4. Consider Christ’s earnest desire to be let into your heart; He not only stands at the door, but He knocks; yea, knocks loud, and knocks often, to convince you of his earnestness. Many a loud knock does He give, by his calls and invitations in his word, “Come unto me, open unto me, look unto me.” Many a knock gives He by his promises to you, “I will come in, I will sup with you,” etc. Many a knock gives He by his threatenings of wrath and vengeance against those who shut their doors against Him. Many a knock gives He by your own conscience, and by his own Spirit, raising convictions, inclinations, desires and purposes within your heart, to bring you to a Savior.
Ebenezer Erskine 1754
‘God in Christ, A God of Love’, a sermon on 1 John 4:16, in The Whole Works of the late Rev. Ebenezer Erskine, vol. 1, pp. 280-281.
2, He has a love, not only of benevolence, but of beneficence; He not only wishes you well, but does well unto you. O Sirs! many a good turn has He done you, particularly you who are members of the visible church; He gives you line upon line, precept upon precept; He makes you to hear the joyful sound, the voice of the turtle; many a minister has He sent you; many an offer of Christ, and of life through Him, has He made to you; many a time has He knocked at thy door, by word, by conscience, and the motions and whispers of his Spirit; so that He may say to us, as He did of his vineyard, Isa. 5:4, “What could have been done more for them, that I have not done?”
Jonathan Edwards †1758
Remarks on Important Theological Controversies, Chap. 3: “Concerning the Divine Decrees in General, and Election in Particular,” from paragraphs 9 and 13, in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, ed. Edward Hickman, vol. 2, p. 527-28.
13. It is objected against the absolute decrees respecting the future actions of men, and especially the unbelief of sinners, and their rejection of the gospel, that this does not consist with the sincerity of God’s calls and invitations to such sinners; as He has willed, in his eternal secret decree, that they should never accept of those invitations. To which I answer, that there is that in God, respecting the acceptance and compliance of sinners, which God knows will never be, and which He has decreed never to cause to be, in which, though it be not just the same with our desiring and wishing for that which will never come to pass, yet there is nothing wanting but what would imply imperfection in the case. There is all in God that is good, and perfect, and excellent in our desires and wishes for the conversion and salvation of wicked men. As, for instance, there is a love to holiness, absolutely considered, or an agreeableness of holiness to his nature and will; or, in other words, to his natural inclination. The holiness and happiness of the creature, absolutely considered, are things that he loves. These things are infinitely more agreeable to his nature than to ours. There is all in God that belongs to our desire of the holiness and happiness of unconverted men and reprobates, excepting what implies imperfection. All that is consistent with infinite knowledge, wisdom, power, self-sufficience, infinite happiness, and immutability. Therefore, there is no reason that his absolute prescience, or his wise determination and ordering what is future, should hinder his expressing this disposition of his nature, in like manner as we are wont to express such a disposition in ourselves, viz. by calls and invitations, and the like.
The disagreeableness of the wickedness and misery of the creature, absolutely considered, to the nature of God, is all that is good in pious and holy men’s lamenting the past misery and wickedness of men. Their lamenting these, is good no farther than it proceeds from the disagreeableness of those things to their holy and good nature. This is also all that is good in wishing for the future holiness and happiness of men. And there is nothing wanting in God, in order to his having such desires and such lamentings, but imperfection; and nothing is in the way of his having them, but infinite perfection; and therefore it properly, naturally, and necessarily came to pass, that when God, in the manner of existence, came down from his infinite perfection, and accommodated himself to our nature and manner, by being made man, as he was, in the person of Jesus Christ, He really desired the conversion and salvation of reprobates, and lamented their obstinacy and misery; as when he beheld the city Jerusalem, and wept over it, saying, ” O Jerusalem,” etc. In the like manner, when He comes down from his infinite perfection, though not in the manner of being, but in the manner of manifestation, and accommodates Himself to our nature and manner, in the manner of expression, it is equally natural and proper that he should express himself as though He desired the conversion and salvation of reprobates, and lamented their obstinacy and misery.
Select Works, Banner edition, 2:528
There is all in God that is good, and perfect, and excellent in our desires and wishes for the conversion and salvation of wicked men. As for instance, there is a love to holiness absolutely considered, or an agreeableness of holiness to His nature and will; or in other words, to His natural inclination. The holiness and happiness of the creature, absolutely considered, are things that He loves. These things are infinitely more agreeable to His nature than to ours. There is all in God that belongs to our desire of the holiness and happiness of unconverted men and reprobates, excepting what implies imperfection. All that is consistent with infinite knowledge, wisdom, power, self-sufficience, infinite happiness, and immutability. Therefore there is no reason that His absolute prescience, or His wise determination and ordering of what is future, should hinder His expressing this disposition of His nature, in like manner as we are wont to express such a disposition in ourselves, viz., by calls, and invitations, and the like.
John Gill 1771
Commentary on the Bible
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,…. That is humbled under a sense of sin; has true repentance for it; is smitten, wounded, and broken with it, by the word of God in the hand of the Spirit, which is a hammer to break the rock in pieces; and that not merely in a legal, but in an evangelical way; grieving for sin as committed against a God of love; broken and melted down under a sense of it, in a view of pardoning grace; and mourning for it, while beholding a pierced and wounded Saviour: the sacrifices of such a broken heart and contrite spirit are the sacrifices God desires, approves, accepts of, and delights in;
Truth shall spring out of the earth,…. Either the Gospel, the word of truth, which sprung up at once in the land of Judea, as if it came out of the earth; and from Zion and Jerusalem it came forth into the Gentile world: or else the truth of grace God desires in the inward parts, and which springs up in such who are like cultivated earth, or good ground, being made so by the Spirit and grace of God, particularly the grace of “faith”
Andrew Fuller 1815
“The Reality and Efficacy of Divine Grace,” in The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller (Harrisonburg, Virginia: Sprinkle Publications, 1988), 2:554
It is admitted that God’s love to man is in one sense universal. He bears good-will towards them, as the work of his hands; but it does not follow thence that He must do all that he could do for their salvation… As to God’s willingness that all should turn and live, as God’s will has been observed sometimes expresses what He approves, and sometimes what He purposes. God wills, approves, and desires a sinner’s turning unto Him. It is that which, through the whole Bible, is required of him; and whosoever thus returns shall live. I may add, God is willing to receive and forgive every sinner that returns to Him through Jesus Christ. He desireth not the death of a sinner, but rather that he would repent and live. But He has not purposed the salvation of every sinner, or to incline his heart to embrace the salvation exhibited in the gospel. In this sense, the salvation of some is neither desired nor designed: if it were, it would be effected; for “his counsel shall stand, and He will do all his pleasure.”–“Whatsoever his soul desireth, even that he doeth,” Isa. xlvi. 10; Job xxiii. 13.
Charles Simeon †1836
I. The evils which God lays to our charge arc, that we have forsaken Him, and sought our happiness in the creature rather than in the Creator. He justly calls himself “the fountain of living waters:” for He is, and must be acknowledged to be, the only source of all good…
What then does he require of us? He calls us to regard Him as the one source of happiness to ourselves; to acknowledge Him in all that we have; and to trust in Him for all that we stand in need of. He calls us to resemble our first parents in their primitive state; yea, to resemble the very angels around his throne; and to delight ourselves in him, as our Friend, our Portion, “our eternal great Reward.” By sin, indeed, we are become incapable of fulfilling these duties, or of experiencing these enjoyments, to the extent we ought: but still God desires to restore us to the felicity which we have lost, and to communicate to us all those blessings which we have forfeited by our transgressions.
If you can be easy in such a state, there is reason to fear that you are given up by God to judicial hardness: but perhaps you are not easy, yet your uneasiness does not stir you up to repent: you do not unfeignedly seek grace and mercy from the Saviour’s hands; you do not plead with him in earnest; you do not go with strong crying and tears to implore deliverance: what then can you expect, but to perish by the wounds which your backslidings have made? Still, however, there is mercy in store for you: God desires not your death, but rather that you turn from your wickedness and live. O then, “turn, and live ye!” Be importunate at the throne of grace; plead with Him that died for sinners: remember, He is the Sun of Righteousness, whose beams are healing; and “the tree of life, whose leaves are for the healing of the nations.”
Robert Murray M’Cheyne †1843
“The Gospel Call” a sermon on Prov. 8:4, 1888, in Memoir and Remains of the Robert Murray M’Cheyne, ed. Andrew Bonar, p. 365-371
(2) “I have not the least care about my soul. Up to this moment I
never listened to a sermon, nor attended to a word in the Bible. I have
no wish to hear of Christ, or God, or eternal things.” To you I answer,
Still Christ is quite free to you. Though you have no care for your soul,
yet Christ has, and wishes to save it. Though you do not care for Christ,
yet He cares for you, and stretches out his hands to you. Christ did not
come to the earth because people were caring about their souls, but
because we were lost. You are only the more lost. Christ is all the more seeking you. This day you may find a Saviour, “Unto you, O men, I call.”
Thomas Chalmers †1847
‘Fury Not in God’, a sermon on Isa. 27:3-5, in Sermons, vol. 4 of Select Works of Thomas Chalmers, 1845, Edinburgh, pp. 452-53, 458
Fury will be discharged on those who reject the invitation. But we cannot say that there is any exercise of fury in God at the time of giving the invitation. There is the most visible and direct contrary. There is a longing desire after you. There is a wish to save you from that day in which the fury of a rejected Saviour will be spread abroad over all who have despised Him. The tone of invitation is not a tone of anger — it is a tone of tenderness. The look which accompanies the invitation is not a look of wrath — it is a look of affection.
‘On the Universality of the Gospel Offer’, a sermon on Luke 2:14, in Sermons, vol. 4 of Select Works of Thomas Chalmers, 1845, Edinburgh, pp. 411-14. See the whole sermon here.
But others again are more drawn by the cords of love; and the tender voice of a beseeching and inviting God will sometimes soften that heart into acquiescence, which would have remained in shut and shielded obstinacy against all the severity of His threatenings. It is the desire of God after you — it is His compassionate longing to have back again to Himself those sinful creatures who had wandered away from Him – it is His fatherly earnestness to recall His strayed children…
…But well can He say at the time when He is now giving the invitation — There is no fury in me. There is kindness — a desire for peace and friendship — a longing earnestness to make up the quarrel which now subsists between the Law-giver in heaven, and His yet impenitent and unreconciled creatures.
Robert Candlish 1867
The Atonement, Its Efficacy and Extent, 1867, p. 196-201
There is a well known theological distinction between God’s will of decree (voluntas decreti) and his will of desire or of good pleasure (voluntas beneplaciti)–between what his mind, on a consideration of all interests, actually determines, and what his heart, from its very nature, if I may venture to use the expression, cannot but decidedly prefer or wish. The types, or expressions, of these two wills respectively, are to be found in two classes of texts which are commonly quoted as proofs and instances of the reality of the distinction between them…
Of the other class of texts, indicating the other aspect of the will of God,–his will, if one may so speak, of nature, or of natural preference and desire,–examples in abundance might be quoted; but one may suffice. That that in which the Lord pours forth his earnest longing, almost in a burst of pathetic and passionate regret: “Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways! I should soon have subdued their enemies and turned my hand against their adversaries”–“He should have fed them also with the finest of the wheat; and with honey out of the rock should I have satisfied thee” (Ps. 81:13-14,16).
This latter will of desire or good pleasure, as distinguished from the former will of determination or decree, denotes the pure complacency with which God approves of a certain result as just and holy and good in itself. On that account He delights in it, and therefore wills to enjoin it on the creature, as his most bounden duty. And for the same reason, in enjoining it, He cannot but add the assurance of his most willing acceptance of it, whensoever, and howsoever realized.
William S. Plumer 1867
Commentary on the Psalms
That this Psalm was not written when by exile it was impossible to offer sacrifices, is evident from v. 16, where David says he would make such an offering, not if it were possible, but if God desired it.
William C. Burns †1868
The Complete Works of William Chalmers Burns, edited by Parisis and Link, 2011
Chapter 18, Part 5 – The Secret Place, p. 186
And now, before we close, let us once more entreat you who are unconverted to turn to Jesus. Could ministers but give you some faint idea of Christ’s willingness to save you! If any soul here can declare that it is willing to receive Christ, let it know that Christ is yet more willing to save and to bless. He does not wish you to remain an hour longer a stranger to his love. Why did He suffer? Why did He die? Oh! not merely that He might be glorified in your destruction.
Patrick Fairbairn †1874
Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles, on 1 Tim. 2:4, p. 114
And the whole character of the Gospel of Christ, with its universal Call to repent, its indiscriminate offers of pardon to the penitent, and urgent entreaties to lay hold of the hope set before them, is framed on the very purpose to give expression to that will; for, surely, in pressing such things on men’s acceptance, yea, and holding them disobedient to His holy will, and liable to aggravated condemnation, if they should refuse to accept, God cannot intend to mock them with a mere show and appearance of some great reality being brought near to them. No; there is the manifestation of a benevolent desire that they should not die in sin, but should come to inherit salvation (as at Ezek. 33:11)… This, necessarily, is implied; and it is the part of the church… to give practical effect to this message of goodwill from Heaven to men, and to do it in the spirit of tenderness and affection which itself breathes.
Charles Hodge †1878
Conference Sermons, Sermon on 1 Tim. 2:4, p. 18-19
“Who will have all men to be saved and to come unto the knowledge of the truth,”
1 Tim. 2:4
The second interpretation is that God desires the salvation of all men. This means:
1st, just what is said when the Scriptures declare that God is good; that He is merciful and gracious, and ready to forgive; that he is good to all, and his tender mercies over all his works. He is kind to the unthankful and to the evil. This goodness or benevolence of God is not only declared but revealed in his works, in his providence, and in the work of redemption.
2nd. It means what is said in Ezek. 33:11, “As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked,” and in Ezek. 18:23, “Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die, saith the Lord God, and not that he should return from his ways and live?” Also Lam. 3:33, “For He doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men.” It means what Christ taught in the parable of the prodigal son, and of the lost sheep and the lost piece of money; and is taught by his lament over Jerusalem.
All these passages teach that God delights in the happiness of his creatures, and that when He permits them to perish, or inflicts evil upon them, it is from some inexorable necessity; that is, because it would be unwise and wrong to do otherwise. His relation is that of a benevolent sovereign in punishing crime, or of a tender judge in passing sentence on offenders, or, what is the familiar representation of Scripture, that of a father who deals with his children with tenderness, yet with wisdom and according to the dictates of right.
This is the meaning of the passage.
John Kennedy of Dingwall †1884
Sermons, “The Precious Deposit”
“Whatever your case may be, however unpromising, however different from every other case on the face of this earth, though you should feel that yours is an utterly hopeless case, do not hestitate, but pass it into the hands of Him who says “I will in no wise case out.” It is the desire of his heart and the cause of his glory, as it is the promise of his word, that everlasting salvation in Himself should be yours, to the glory of His Father’s name, to the praise of His rich grace, and to your joy throughout eternity. Oh, do not leave this house to-night without seeking to leave your spirit in the hands of the Lord Jesus, and may the gracious Spirit help you so to do.”
William G.T. Shedd 1894
Dogmatic Theology, vol. 2, p. 484
The universal offer of the benefits of Christ’s atonement springs out of God’s will of complacency, Ezek. 33:11…. God may properly call upon the non-elect to do a thing that God delights in, simply because He does delight in it. The divine desire is not altered by the divine decree of preterition.
‘The Scriptural Doctrine of the Love of God’, from The Presbyterian and Reformed Review, 13:1-37, 1902, p. 14
This being so, when the sinner comes in contact with the gospel of grace, it is natural for God to desire that he should accept its offer and be saved. We must even assume that over against the sin of rejection of the gospel this love continues to assert itself, in that it evokes from the divine heart sincere sorrow over man’s unbelief. But this universal love should be always so conceived as to leave room for the fact that God, for sovereign reasons, has not chosen to bestow upon its objects that higher love which not merely desires, but purposes and works out the salvation of some.
Reformed Dogmatics, reprinted 2004, Backer Academic edition, 3:245-246
Against this clear and consistent teaching of Scripture, the few texts to which the universalists appeal have little weight. The vocable “all” in Isaiah 53:6; Romans 5:18; 1 Corinthians 15:22; 2 Corinthians 5:15; Hebrews 2:9 (cf. 10) either proves nothing or proves much more than the universalists assert and would help support Origen’s doctrine concerning the restitution of all things. The universalists themselves, accordingly, are compelled to restrict the word “all” in these passages. Of greater weight are texts like Ezekiel 18:23; 33:11; John 1 :29; 3:16; 4:42; 1 Timothy 2:4,6; Titus 2:11; Hebrews 2:9; 2 Peter 3:9; 1 John 2:2; 4:14, where the will of God or the sacrifice of Christ is linked with the salvation of all or of the world. But none of these texts is incompatible with the statements cited above that limit Christ’s benefits to the church. The New Testament, after all, is a very different dispensation from that of the old covenant. The gospel is not restricted to one people but must be preached to all creatures (Matt. 28:19). There is no respect of persons with God and no longer any distinction between Gentile and Jew (Acts 10:34-35; Rom. 3:29; 10:11-13). Indeed, even if in Isaiah 53:11-12; Matthew 20:28; 26:28; Romans 5:15,19; Hebrews 2:10; 9:28, there is mention of the “many” for whom Christ died, this is not grounded in the contrast that has often been insinuated into the text later, namely, that not all but only many will be saved. The idea from which the reference to “the many” arises, however, is a very different one: Christ did not die for a few but for many) for a large multitude. He gives his life as a ransom for many; He sheds his blood for many; He will make many righteous. It is not a handful but many who by one man’s obedience will be made righteous [Rom. 5: 19]. Scripture is not afraid that too many people will be saved. Therefore, based on that same consideration, it says that God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked and that he wants all humans to repent and be saved, that Christ is the expiation of and has given his life for the world, and that the gospel must be preached to all creatures. But when universalists deduce from this that the atonement is completely universal, they run afoul of both Scripture and reality, for the two seem to vie with each other in teaching that not all but only many learn of the gospel and attain genuine repentance. In all these passages, therefore, we are encountering not “the will of God’s good pleasure,” which is unknown to us and neither can nor may be the rule for our conduct, nor an “antecedent will,” which is anterior to the decision of our will and oriented to it, but the “revealed will;’ which tells us by what standard we are to conduct ourselves in the new covenant. It gives us the right and lays on us the duty to bring the gospel to all people without exception. For the universal offer of grace we need no other ground than this clearly revealed will of God. We no more need to know specifically for whom Christ died than we need to know specifically who has been ordained to eternal life. The calling indeed rests on a particular basis, for it belongs to and proceeds from the covenant, but it is addressed in keeping with God’s revealed will and with the inherently all-sufficient value of Christ’s sacrifice – also to those who are outside the covenant in order that they too may be incorporated into that covenant and in faith itself receive the evidence of their election.
John Murray 1948
‘The Free Offer of the Gospel‘, co-written with Ned. B Stonehouse and Arthur W. Kuschke, Jr, the Majority Report to the 15th General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church
Deuteronomy 5:29 (26 in Heb.); 32:29; Psalm 81:13ff. (14ff.); Isaiah 48:18
The purpose of adducing these texts is to note the optative force of that which is expressed. There can be no reasonable question as to the optative force of Deuteronomy 5:29 (26). It is introduced by the idiom mi yitten which literally means “who will give?” but is really a strong optative expression meaning “Oh that there were!” Consequently the text reads,
“Oh 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!”
It is the Lord who is speaking and we shall have to conclude that here we have the expression of earnest desire or wish or will that the people of Israel were of a heart to fear him and keep all his commandments always.
Matthew 23:37; Luke 13:34
In this passage there should be no dispute that the will of Christ in the direction of a certain benign result is set in contrast with the will of those who are contemplated as the subjects of such blessing. These two stand in opposition to each other—I have willed (or wished), ye have not willed (or wished).
Not only so. The will of Christ to a certain end is opposed to that which actually occurred. Jesus says He often wished the occurrence of something which did not come to pass and therefore willed (or wished) the occurrence of that which God had not secretly or decretively willed.
2 Peter 3:9
The most satisfactory view of II Peter 3:9 is:
(4) The reason or ground for the longsuffering of God until the day of judgment is given in what is said concerning his “willing.” He is longsuffering in that, or because, He does not wish that any men should perish, but rather because He wills or wishes that all should come to repentance. Repentance is the condition of life, without repentance men must perish. But the will of God that men be saved expressed here is not conditional. It is not: I will your salvation if you repent, but: I will that you repent and thus be saved.
(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.
(3) Our Lord Himself in the exercise of his messianic prerogative provides us with an example of the foregoing as it applies to the matter of salvation. He says expressly that He willed the bestowal of his saving and protecting grace upon those whom neither the Father nor he decreed thus to save and protect.
(4) We found that God reveals Himself as not taking pleasure in or desiring the death of those who die but rather as taking pleasure in or desiring the repentance and life of the wicked. This will of God to repentance and salvation is universalized and reveals to us, therefore, that there is in God a benevolent lovingkindness towards the repentance and salvation of even those whom he has not decreed to save. This pleasure, will, desire is expressed in the universal call to repentance.
Louis Berkhof 1951
Systematic Theology, V. Calling in General and External Calling, C. External Calling
2. The Characteristics of External Calling
b. It is a bona fide [good-faith] calling. The external calling is a calling in good faith, a calling that is seriously meant. It is not an invitation coupled with the hope that it will not be accepted. When God calls the sinner to accept Christ by faith, He earnestly desires this; and when He promises those who repent and believe eternal life, His promise is dependable. This follows from the very nature, from the veracity, of God. It is blasphemous to think that God would be guilty of equivocation and deception, that He would say one thing and mean another, that He would earnestly plead with the sinner to repent and believe unto salvation, and at the same time not desire it in any sense of the word. The bona fide character of the external call is proved by the following passages of Scripture: Num. 23:19; Ps. 81:13-16; Prov. 1:24; Isa. 1:18-20;Ezek. 18:23,32; 33:11; Matt. 21:37; 2 Tim. 2:13. The Canons of Dort also assert it explicitly in [sections] 3 and 4.8.
“Calvin’s Doctrine of God,” in Able Ministers of the New Testament, this was a paper read at the Puritan and Reformed Studies Conference, 1964, Reprinted by Tentmaker, p. 16
There is the further difficulty of reconciling the expressions of God’s desire for men with God’s absolute decree concerning man. It would seem clear that God wills with genuine desire what He does not will by executive purpose. This has led theologians to make use of the two terms, the decretive will and the preceptive will of God, or His secret and revealed will. For example it is revealed that God would have all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth, [1 Tim. 2:4] while he has not decreed universal salvation. Commenting on 2 Peter 3:9, Calvin says:
‘But it may be asked, If God wishes none to perish, why is it that so many perish? To this my answer is, that no mention is here made of the hidden purpose of God according to which the reprobate are doomed to their own ruin, but only of his will as made known to us in the gospel. For God there stretches out His hand, without a difference, to all, but lays hold only of those, to lead them to Himself, whom he has thus chosen before the foundation of the world’.
Thus it cannot be said that God merely desires the ultimate salvation of all men without also desiring their repentance and faith and sanctification: for as Calvin says that would be ‘to renounce the difference between good and evil’. The position could thus be more clearly put as meaning that God desires all men to be righteous in character and life and to use the means He has appointed to that end. It is in harmony with the revealed will of God that without the use of means appointed by Him the end shall not be attained. As a holy God, the Creator commands all his moral creatures to be holy, and He cannot be conceived as in any way obstructing their pursuit of holiness by His decree.
Ian Hamilton 2004
“Amyraldianiam: Is it Modified Calvinism?” In Confessing Our Hope: Essays Celebrating the Life and Ministry of Morton H. Smith, ed. By Joseph Pipa and C.N. Willborn, p. 88-89
“This mean,” says John Murray, “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.” [Footnote: Murray, Collected Writings of John Murray, 4:131] This ties in with Eze. 33:11. Clearly the will or desire that is revealed is not of the same “kind” as the will or desire that eternally decrees. Truly, we see through a glass darkly, but what are the perplexities to us are resolved in God. It is a wonderful testimony to the truth of God’s revealed word that it leaves us out of our depth. There are, of necessity, insoluble mysteries, because we are dealing with divine revelation!