June 27, 2017

Geerhardus Vos (1862–1949) on God’s Will of Decree and Will of Precept, His Love, and His Emotion

71. What do we understand, respectively, by the will of decree and the will of precept?

The will of decree is God’s free determination of all that will come to pass and how it will occur. The will of precept is the rule laid down by God for rational beings to direct their conduct accordingly.

72. What difficulty does this distinction cause?

Many things that God forbids occur, and many things that He commands do not occur. Therefore, the will of decree and the will of precept seem to directly oppose each other.

73. Can all attempts to remove this difficulty be considered successful?

a) Some have denied that the existing will has the character of a will, and they wish to degrade it to merely a prescription. One must observe, however, that in God’s prescriptions His holy nature speaks and that in fact they are founded upon a strong desire in God. More precisely, the problem here is this: How can there be two desires in God, one that wills the good and abhors the evil, and one that leaves the good unrealized and permits the evil to appear?
Geerhardus Vos, Reformed Dogmatics, trans. Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., 4 vols. (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012–2014), 1:23. Clark is an example of what Vos is referring to: “It would be conducive to clarity if the term will were not applied to the precepts. Call the requirements of morality commands, precepts, or laws; and reserve the term will for the divine decree. These are two different things, and what looks like an opposition between them is not a self-contradiction.” See Gordon H. Clark, Religion, Reason, and Revelation (Hobbs, NM: The Trinity Foundation, 1995), 222–223. For a refutation of this position in earlier theologians, see John Howe on God's Will (Voluntas Beneplaciti, et Signi).
93. In what ways does God reveal His love ward His creatures?

By (a) His goodness; (b) His grace; (c) His lovingkindness; (d) His mercy or compassion; (e) His longsuffering.

94. What is God’s goodness and what is it sometimes called?

It is His love toward personal and sentient creatures in general and can also be called Amor Dei generalis, “God’s general love.”
Ibid., 28. Notice the interconnection between Vos’ idea of divine love with God’s goodness, grace, mercy, compassion, and longsuffering. All of these things are expressions of divine love for Vos, even in a general sense.
98. What is God’s lovingkindness?

The love of God insofar as it, as a special tenderness, seeks to lead the sinner to conversion. [Vos references Rom. 2:4, among other passages.]
Ibid., 29. Not only is divine love connected to goodness, grace, mercy, compassion, and longsuffering, it is God’s “special tenderness” that “seeks to lead the sinner to conversion.”
119. Is there emotion or feeling in God?

Not in the sense of an intense transitory movement of emotion, something passive, whereby the will retreats into the background (compare affectus from afficere, “to be affected”). Certainly, however, in the sense of an inner divine satisfaction that accompanies the energetic expression of His will and His power and His understanding.
Ibid., 35. Vos seems to think that there is emotion or feeling in God, but “Not in the sense of an intense transitory movement of emotion,” or “something passive,” such as is in the creature, as if His will retreats into the background so that He is passively affected by that outside of Himself.


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