So, here’s an easy topic today, huh? How are we to understand this verse…
This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 1 Timothy 2:3-4 (ESV)
in light of this verse…
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. Romans 8:29-30 (ESV)
Many people are very puzzled when they compare the teaching of predestination and election (hard enough to accept, and yet taught in Romans 8 & 9, Ephesians 1, John 6, etc.) to other texts which teach that God desires everyone to be saved or is “not wishing that any should perish” (2 Peter 3:9 ESV).
In an article written in 1995, called Are There Two Wills in God, John Piper refers to an essay written by Robert L. Dabney which seeks to solve this question, one of the most difficult in theology. It’s a story about how George Washington was faced with doing something he most definitely didn’t want to do – sign the death warrant of a treasonous soldier:
“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.
“…God’s expression of pity and his entreaties have heart in them. There is a genuine inclination in God’s heart to spare those who have committed treason against his kingdom. But his motivation is complex, and not every true element in it rises to the level of effective choice.
In the article, Piper speaks about how we know that there are certain things that God desires and yet in his sovereign will allows something else to come to pass. Most famously, for instance, in the death of His Son, God truly desired that the Romans and the Jewish leaders obey the Golden Rule and treat His Son as they would like to be treated (Matthew 7:12). But in a greater sense, He also desired that His Son offer Himself as a sacrifice to save the world. So, our Sovereign God…had two desires, or two wills, as John Piper describes it…
“Therefore we know it was not the ‘will of God’ that Judas and Pilate and Herod and the Gentile soldiers and the Jewish crowds disobey the moral law of God by sinning in delivering Jesus up to be crucified. But we also know that it was the will of God that this come to pass. Therefore we know that God in some sense wills what he does not will in another sense. I. Howard Marshall’s statement is confirmed by the death of Jesus: ‘We must certainly distinguish between what God would like to see happen and what he actually does will to happen.'”
It’s a difficult topic all in all, but I have been helped by John Piper’s article, and I commend it to you.