John Howe on God’s Revealed Will is Actually His Will





Sometimes it is claimed that God’s Revealed Will does not reflect God’s nature and that God’s Revealed Will only lays a duty upon man, but does not actually reflect the will of God to the creature.  

John Howe shows that this position is untenable, that God’s Revealed Will does reflect God’s nature and that God’s Revealed Will is actually his will.  For scriptural proof of this, see Bible Verses on God’s Revealed Will Being His Will, Desire, Wish and Pleasure.

Howe agrees with the distinction between the revealed and secret will of God.  He complains though that the Latin for the revealed will, ‘will of sign’, might be, and has often been, misunderstood

(1) that it is a sign only, and not really willed by God,
(2) that it is not really his good-pleasure (which is the Latin for the secret will),
(3) that it appears to make God more willing of the permission of sin than of righteousness, and
(4) that persons have slandered God as insincere because of this.

Strangely many Christians are guilty of this.  That reformed theologians have consistently affirmed that God’s revealed will is his will, see Historic Reformed Quotes on God’s Revealed Will and the Gospel Call as God’s Desire, Wish, and Pleasure.



The Reconcileableness of God’s Prescience of the Sins of Men with the Wisdom and Sincerity of His Counsels, Exhortations, and Whatsoever Means He Uses to Prevent Them, Section 19, page 51-2

Nor indeed can any notices we have of the perfections of the divine nature be less liable to doubt, than what we have of his unchangeable veracy [truth]; whence, as it is impossible to Him to lie, it must be necessary, that He be really willing of what He has represented Himself so to be.  

I must here profess my dislike of the terms of that common distinction, the voluntas beneplaciti [‘will of good-pleasure,’ or decree], et signi [‘and sign,’ or revealed will], in this present case:

under which, such as coined, and those that have much used it, have only rather, I doubt not, concealed a good meaning, than expressed by it an ill one.  It seems, I confess, by its more obvious aspect, too much to countenance the ignominious slander, which profane and atheistical dispositions would fasten on God, and the course of his procedure towards men; and which it is the design of these papers to evince of as much absurdity and folly, as it is guilty of impiety and wickedness: as though He only intended to seem willing of what He really was not; that there was an appearance to which nothing did subesse [exist under].  

And then why is the latter called voluntas [will]? unless the meaning be, He did only will the sign; which is false and impious; and if it were true, did He not will it with the will of good pleasure?  And then the members of the distinction are confounded; or, as if the evil actions of men were more truly the objects of his good pleasure than their forbearance of them.  

And of these faults the application of the distinction of God’s secret will, and revealed, unto this case, though it be useful in many, is as guilty.



The Redeemer’s Tears Wept Over Lost Souls, Appendix, “How God is said to Will the Salvation of them that Perish”, p. 386-8

Shall it be said that sin does not displease God; that He has no will against sin; it is not repugnant to his will?  Yes; it is to his revealed will, to his law.  But is that an untrue revelation?  His law is not his will itself, but the signum [sign], the discovery of his will.  Now, is it an insignificant sign?  A sign that signifies nothing? Or to which there belongs no correspondent significatum [signification]? –nothing that is signified by it?  Is that which is signified (for sure no one will say it signifies nothing) his real will, yea or no?  Who can deny it?  That will, then (and a most calm, sedate, impassionate will it must be understood to be), sin and consequently the consequent miseries of his creatures, are repugnant unto.

And what will is that?  It is not a peremptory will concerning the event, for the event falls out otherwise; which were, upon that supposition, impossible; “for who has resisted his will?” as was truly intimated by the personated questionist (Rom. 9:19) but impertinently, when God’s will of another (not a contrary) kind, i.e. concerning another object, was in the same breath referred unto, “Why does He yet find fault?”  It is not the will of the event that is the measure of faultiness; for then there could not have been sin in the world, nor consequently misery, which only, by the Creator’s pleasure, stands connected with it.  For nothing could fall out against that irresistible will.  The objector then destroys his own objection, so absurdly, and so manifestly, as not to deserve any other reply than that which he meets with; “Nay, but who are you, O man, that reply against God?”

And what is the other object about which the divine will is also conversant?  Matter of duty, and what stands in connection with it, not abstractly and separately, but as it is so connected, our felicity.  This is objectively another will, as we justly distinguish divine acts that respect the creature, by their different objects.  Against this will falls out all the sin and misery in the world.

All this seems plain and clear, but is not enough.  For it may be further said, When God wills this or that to be my duty, does He not will this event, viz. my doing it?  Otherwise wherein is his will withstood, or not fulfilled, in my not doing it?  He willed this to be my duty, and it is so.  I do not, nor can hinder it from being so; yet I do it not, and that He willed not.  If all that his will meant was that this should be my duty, but my doing it was not intended; his will is entirely accomplished, it has its full effect, in that such things are constituted, and do remain my duty, upon his signification of this his will; my not doing it, not being within the compass of the object, or the thing willed.

If it be said, He willed my doing it, i.e. that I should do it, not that I shall, the same answer will recur, viz. that his will has still its full effect, this effect still remaining, that I should do it; but that I shall, He willed not.

It may be said, I do plainly go against his will, however; for his will was that I should do so, or so, and I do not what He willed I should.  It is true, I go herein against his will, if He willed not only my obligation, but my action according to it.  And indeed it seems altogether unreasonable, and unintelligible, that He should will to oblige me to that, which He does not will me to do.

Therefore, it seems out of question, that the holy God does constantly and perpetually, in a true sense, will universal obedience, and the consequent felicity of all his creatures capable thereof; i.e. He does will it with simple complacency, as what were highly grateful to Him, simply considered by itself.  Who can doubt, but that purity, holiness, blessedness, wheresoever they were to be beheld among his creatures, would be a pleasing and delightful spectacle to Him, being most agreeable to the perfect excellency, purity, and benignity of his own nature, and that their deformity and misery must be consequently unpleasing? 

But He does not efficaciously will everything that He truly wills.  He never willed the obedience of all his intelligent creatures, so as effectually to make them all obey; nor their happiness, so as to make them all be happy; as the event shows.  Nothing can be more certain, than that He did not so will these things; for then nothing could have fallen out to the contrary, as we see much has.  Nor is it at all unworthy the love and goodness of his nature not so to have willed, with that effective will, the universal fullness, sinlessness, and felicity of all his intelligent creatures.  The divine nature comprehends all excellencies in itself, and is not to be limited to that one only of benignity, or an aptness to acts of beneficence; for then it were not infinite, not absolutely perfect, and so not divine.  All the acts of his will must be consequently conform and agreeable to the most perfect wisdom.  He does all things according to the counsel of his will.  He wills, it is true the rectitude of our actions, and what would be consequent thereto, but He first, and more principally wills, the rectitude of his own; and not only not to do an unrighteous, but not an inept, or unfit thing.  We find He did not think it fit efficaciously to provide concerning all men, that they should be made obedient and happy, as He has concerning some; that in the general He makes a difference, is to be attributed to his wisdom, i.e. his wisdom has in the general made this determination, not to deal with all alike, and so we find it ascribed to his wisdom that He does make a difference; and in what a transport is the holy apostle in the contemplation and celebration of it upon this account! Rom. 11:33.  “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!”  But now, when in particular He comes to make this difference between one person and another, there being no reason in the object to determine Him this way more than that, his designing some for the objects of special favor, and waiving others (as to such special favor) when all were in themselves alike; in that case wisdom has not so proper an exercise, but it is the work of free, unobliged sovereignty here to make the choice’ “having predestinated us unto the adoption of children, by Jesus Christ, to Himself, according to the good pleasure of his will.” Eph. 1:5

Yet, in the meantime, while God does not efficaciously will all men’s obedience introductive of their happiness, does it follow He wills it not really at all?  To say He wills it efficaciously, were to contradict experience, and his word; to say He wills it not really, were equally to contradict his word.  He does will it, but not primarily, and as the more principal object of his will, so as to effect it notwithstanding whatsoever unfitness He apprehends in it, viz. that He so overpower all, as to make them obedient and happy.  He really wills it, but has greater reasons than this or that man’s salvation, why He effects it not.  And this argues no imperfection in the divine will, but the perfection of it, that He wills things agreeably to the reasonableness and fitness of them.




Related Pages

John Howe on What Anthropopathisms Attributed to God Mean

John Howe on the Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel

The Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel

Historic Reformed Quotes on the Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel