October 23, 2006

John Howe (1630–1705) on God's Will (part 2)

Unto what also is discoursed concerning anger and grief, (or other passions) ascribed to God, it will not be unfit here to add, that unless they be allowed to signify real aversion of will, no account is to be given what reality in him they can signify at all. For to say (what some do seem to satisfy themselves with) that they are to be understood secundum effectum, not secundum affectum, though true as to the negative part, is, as to the affirmative, very defective and short; for the effects of anger and grief, upon which those names are put, when spoken of God, are not themselves in him, but in us. But we are still at a loss what they signify in him. Such effects must have some cause. And if they be effects which he works, they must have some cause in himself that is before them, and productive of them. This account leaves us to seek what that cause is that is signified by these names. That it cannot be any passion, as the same names are wont to signify with us, is out of question. Nor indeed do those names primarily, and most properly, signify passion in ourselves. The passion is consequently only, by reason of that inferior nature in us which is susceptible of it. But the aversion of our mind and will is before it, and, in another subject very separable from it, and possible to be without it. In the blessed God we cannot understand any thing less is signified than real displacency at the things whereat he is said to be angry or grieved.

Our shallow reason indeed is apt to suggest in these matters, Why is not that prevented that is so displeasing? And it would be said with equal reason in reference to all sin permitted to be in the world, Why was it not prevented? And what is to be said to this? Shall it be said that sin doth not displease God; that he hath 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, the discovery of his will. Now, is it an insignificant sign? a sign that signifies nothing? or to which there belongs no correspondent significatum? - 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 hath resisted his will?" as was truly intimated by the personated questionist, (Rom. ix. 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 doth 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 irresistable 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 art thou, O man, that repliest 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 separably, but as it is so connected, our felicity. This is objectively another will, as we justly distinguish 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, doth 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 hath 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 hath 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 doth not will me to do.

Therefore, it seems out of question, that the holy God doth constantly and perpetually, in a true sense, will universal obedience, and the consequent felicity of all his creatures capable thereof; i.e. he doth 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 doth not efficaciously will every thing 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 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 hath. Nor is it at all unworthy the love and goodness of his nature not so to have willed, with that effective will, the universal fitness, 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 doth 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 hath concerning some; that in the general he makes a difference, is to be attributed to his wisdom, i.e. his wisdom hath in the general made this determination, not to deal with all alike, and so we find it ascribed to his wisdom that he doth make a difference; and in what a transport is the holy apostle in the contemplation and celebration of it upon his account! Rom. xi. 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 hath 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. i. 5.

Yet, in the meantime, while God doth not efficaciously will all men's obedience introductive of their happiness, doth 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 doth will it, but not primarily, and as the more principle 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 hath 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.
John Howe, "The Redeemer's Tears Wept Over Lost Souls," in The Works of John Howe (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1990), 2:386–389.

Also in John Howe, "The Redeemer's Tears Wept Over Lost Souls," in The Works of John Howe, 6 vols. (London: The Religious Tract Society, 1862), 2:353–357.


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