GOD'S WILL AND MAN'S WILL
by Horatius Bonar 1851
"Cannot I do with you as the potter?
saith the Lord. Behold, as the clay is in the
potter's hand, so are ye in my hand, O house of Israel." - Jer. 18:6.
Much of the present controversy is concerning the will of God. On this point
questions have arisen. The chief one is that which touches on the connection
between the will of God and the will of man. What is the relation between these?
What is the order in which they stand to each other? Which is first? There is no
dispute as to the existence of these two separate wills. There is a will in God, and
there is also a will in man. Both of these are in continual exercise; - God willeth;
and man willeth. Nothing in the universe takes place without the will of God. This
is admitted. But it is asked, Is this will first in everything?
I answer, yes. Nothing that is good can exist which God did not will to be,
nothing that is evil can exist which God did not will to allow. The will of God goes
before all other wills. It does not depend on them, but they depend on it. It's
movements regulate them. The "I will" of Jehovah, is that which sets in motion
everything in heaven and in earth. The "I will" of Jehovah, is the spring and the
origin of all that is done throughout the universe, great and small, among things
animate and inanimate. It was this "I will" that brought angels into being, and still
sustains them. It was this "I will" that was the origin of salvation to a lost world. It
was this "I will" that provided a Redeemer, and accomplished redemption. It was
this "I will" that begins, and carries on, and ends salvation in each soul that is
redeemed. It is this "I will" that opens the blind eye, and unstops the deaf ear. It
was this "I will" that awakens the slumberer, and raises the dead. I do not mean
that, merely generally speaking, God has declared His will concerning these things:
but each individual conversion, nay, and each movement that forms part of it,
originates in this supreme "I will". When Jesus healed the leper, He said, "I will, be
thou clean"; so when a soul is converted, there is the same distinct and special
forthputting of the Divine will, "I will, be thou converted". Everything that can be
called good in man, or in the universe, originates in the "I will" of Jehovah.
I do not deny that in conversion man himself wills. In everything that he
thinks, feels, he of necessity wills. In believing he wills; in repenting he wills; in
turning from his evil ways he wills. All this is true. The opposite is both untrue and
absurd. But while fully admitting this, there is another question behind it of great
interest and movement. Are these movements of man's will towards good the
effects of the forthputting of God's will? Is man willing, because he has made
himself so, or because God has made him so? Does he become willing entirely by
an act of his own will, or by chance, or by moral suasion, or because acted on by
created causes and influences from without?
I answer unhesitatingly, he becomes willing, because another and a superior
even that of God, has come into contact with his, altering its nature and its bent.
This new bent is the result of a change produced upon it by Him who alone, of all
beings, has the right, without control, to say, in regard to all events and changes, "I
will". The man's will has followed the movement of the Divine will. God has made
him willing. God's will is first in the movement, not second. Even a holy and
perfect will depends for guidance upon the will of God. Even when renewed it still
follows, it does not lead. Much more an unholy will, for its bent must be first
changed; and how can this be, if God is not to interpose His hand and power?
But is not this to make God the author of sin? No. It does not follow that
God's will originates what is good in man, that it must therefore originate what is
evil. The existence of a holy, happy world, proves that God had created it with His
own hand. The existence of an unholy, unhappy world, proves that God allowed it
to fall into that state: - but it proves nothing more. We are told that Jesus was
delivered by "the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God." God's will was
there. God permitted that deed of darkness to be done; nay, it was the result of His
"determinate counsel". But does that prove that God was the author of the sin of
either Judas or Herod? Had it not been for the eternal "I will" of Jehovah, Christ
would not have been delivered up; but does this prove that God compelled either
Judas to betray, or Herod to mock, or Pilate to condemn, the Lord of Glory? Still
further, it is added in another place, "Of a truth against Thy holy child Jesus,
whom Thou hast anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and
people of Israel, were gathered together for to do whatsoever Thy hand and Thy
counsel determined before to be done". Is it possible to pervert this passage so as
to prove that it has no reference to predestination? Does it make God the author of
the deed referred to? Must God be the author of sin, because it is said that Israel
and the Gentiles "were gathered together to do what His counsel had determined"?
let our opponents attempt an explanation of such a passage, and tell us how it can
be made to harmonize with their theory.
It may be argued that God works by means, in changing the will. "There
need", it will be said, "that there should be these special and direct forthputting of
His will and strength. He has ordained the means, He has given His Word, He has
proclaimed His Gospel, and by these means He effects the change. His will does
not come directly into contact with ours. He leaves it to these instruments to effect
the change". Well, let us see what amount of truth there may be in this. I suppose
no one will say that the Gospel can produce the alteration in the will so long as the
will rejects it. No medicine, however excellent, can operate unless it be taken. The
will of man then rejects the Gospel; it is set against the truth of God. How then is it
made to receive it? Granting that in receiving it there is a change, yet the question
is, How was it so far changed already as to be willing to receive it? The worst
feature of the malady is the determination not to touch or taste the medicine; and
how is this to be overcome? Oh! It will be said, this resistance is to be overcome
with arguments. Arguments! Is not the Gospel itself the great argument? and it is
rejected. What arguments can you expect to prevail with a man that refuses the
Gospel? Admit that there are other arguments, yet the man is set against them all.
There is not one argument that can be used which he does not hate. His will resists
and rejects every persuasive and motive. How then is this resistance to be
overcome, - this opposition to be made to give way? How is the bent of the will to
be so altered as to receive that which it rejected? Plainly by his will coming in
contact with a superior one, - a will that can remove the resistance, - a will such as
that which said, "Let there be light, and there was light". The will itself must
undergo a change before it can choose that which it rejected. And what can change
it but the finger of God?
Were man's rejection of the Gospel simply occasioned by his misunderstanding
then I can see how, upon its being made plain, resistance would cease. But I do not
believe that such is the case; for what does it amount to but just that the sinner
never rejects the truth, it is only error which he rejects, and were his mistake
rectified, he would at once embrace the truth! The unrenewed man, then, so far
from having enmity to the truth, has the very opposite! So little of depravity is there
in his heart, and so little perversity in his will--such instinctive love of the truth and
abhorrence of error is there in him, that as soon as the truth is made plain to him,
he embraces it! All his previous hesitation arose from the errors which had been
mingled with the truth presented! One would think that this was anything but
depravity. It might be ignorance, but it could not be called enmity to the truth, it is
rather enmity to error. It would thus appear that the chief feature of the sinner's
heart and will is not enmity to truth, but hatred to error and love of truth!
Man's heart is enmity to God,-- to God as revealed in the Gospel,-- to God
God of grace. What truth can there be in the assertion that all the sinner's distrust of
God and darkness of spirit arise from his not seeing God as the God of grace? I
grant that oftentimes this is the case. I know that it is very frequently
misapprehension of God's merciful character, as seen and pledged in the cross of
Christ, that is the cause of darkness to the anxious soul, and that a simple sight of
the exceeding riches of the grace of God would dispel these clouds; but that is very
different from saying that such a sight, apart from the renewing energy of the Spirit
upon the soul, would change man's enmity into confidence and love. For we know
that the unrenewed will is set against the Gospel; it is enmity to God and His truth.
The more closely and clearly truth is set before it, and pressed home upon it, its
hatred swells and rises. The presentation of truth, however forcible and clear, even
though that truth were the grace of God, will only exasperate the unconverted man.
It is the Gospel that he hates; and the more clearly it is set before him he hates it
the more. It is God that he hates; and the more closely God approaches him, the
more vividly God is set before him, the more does his enmity awaken and augment.
Surely, then that which stirs up enmity cannot of itself remove it. Of what avail,
then, are the most energetic means by themselves? The will itself must be directly
operated upon by the Spirit of God: He who made it must remake it. Its making
was the work of Omnipotence: its remaking must be the same. In no other way can
its evil bent be rectified. God's will must come into contact with man's will, and
then the work is done. Must not God's will then be first in every such movement?
Man's will follows; it can not lead.
Is this a hard saying? So some in these days would have us to believe. Let
wherein consists its hardness. Is it hard that God's will should take the precedence
of man's? Is it hard that God's will should be the leader and man's the follower in
all things great and small? Is it hard that we should be obliged to trace the origin of
every movement of man towards good to the will of a sovereign Jehovah?
If it be hard, it must be that it strips man of every fragment of what is
good, or of
the slightest tendency to good. And this we believe to be the secret origin of the
complaint against the doctrine. It is a thorough leveller and emptier of man. It
makes him not only nothing, but worse than nothing,--a sinner all over,--nothing but
a sinner, with a heart full of enmity to God, set against Him as the God of
righteousness, and still more set against Him as the God of grace, with a will so
bent away from the will of God, and so rebellious against it, as not to have one
remaining inclination to what is good and holy, and spiritual. This he cannot
tolerate. Admit that a man is totally worthless and helpless, and where is the hard
saying? Is it hard that God's blessed and holy will should go before our miserable
and unholy wills, to lead them in the way? Is it hard that those who have nothing
should be indebted to God for everything? Is it hard, seeing that every movement
of my will is downwards, earthwards, that God's mighty will should come in and lift
it omnipotently upwards, heavenwards?
If I admit that God's will regulates the great movements of the universe I
admit that it equally regulates the small. It must do this, for the great depend upon
the small. The minutest movement of my will is regulated by the will of God. And
in this I rejoice. Woe is me if it be not so. If I shrink from so unlimited control and
guidance, it is plain that I dislike the idea of being wholly at the disposal of God. I
am wishing to be in part at my own disposal. I am ambitious of regulating the lesser
movements of my will, while I give up the greater to His control. And thus it comes
out that I wish to be a god to myself. I do not like the thought of God having all the
disposal of my destiny. If He gets His will, I am afraid that I shall not get mine. It
comes out, moreover, that the God about whose love I was fond of speaking, is a
God to whom I cannot trust myself implicitly for eternity. Yes, this is the real truth.
Man's dislike at God's sovereignty arises from his suspicion of God's heart. And yet
the men in our day, who deny this absolute sovereignty, are the very men who
profess to rejoice in the love of God,--who speak of that love as if there were
nothing else in God but love. The more I understand of the character of God, as
revealed in Scripture, the more shall I see that He must be sovereign, and the more
shall I rejoice from my inmost heart that He is so.
It was God's sovereign will that fixed the time of my birth. It is the same
has fixed the day of my death. And was not the day of my conversion fixed as
certainly by the same will? Or will any but "the fool" say that God has fixed by His
will the day of our birth and death, but leaves us to fix the day of our conversion by
our own will; that is, leave us to decide whether we shall be converted or not? If
the day of conversion be fixed, then it cannot be left to be determined by our own
will. God determined, where and when, and how we should be born; and so He has
determined where, and when, and how we shall be born again. If so, His will must
go before ours in believing; and it is just because His will goes before ours that we
become willing to believe. Were it not for this, we should never have believed at all.
If man's will precedes God's will in everything relating to himself, then I do not see
how any of God's plans can be carried into effect. Man would be left to manage the
world in his own way. God must not fix the time of his conversion, for that would
be an interference with man's responsibility. Nay, He must not fix that he shall be
converted at all, for that must be left to himself and to his own will. He must not fix
how many are to be converted, for that would be making His own invitation a mere
mockery, and man's responsibility a pretence! He may turn a stray star into its
course again by a direct forth-putting of power, and be unchallenged for
interference with the laws of nature. But to stretch out His arm and arrest a human
will in its devious course, so as to turn it back again to holiness, is an unwarrantable
exercise of His power, and an encroachment upon man's liberty! What a world!
where man gets all his own way, where God is not allowed to interfere, except in
the way that man calls lawful! What a world! where everything turns upon man's
will;--where the whole current of events in the world or in the church is regulated,
shaped, impelled by man's will alone. God's will is but a secondary thing. Its part is
to watch events, and follow in the track of man's! Man wills, and God must
In all this opposition to the absolute will of God, we see the self-will of
the last days
manifesting itself. Man wanted to be a god at the first, and he continues the struggle
to the last. He is resolved that his will shall take the precedence of God's. In the last
Antichrist, this self-will shall be summed up and exhibited. He is the king that is to
do "according to his will". And in the freewill controversy of the day, we see the
same spirit displayed. It is Antichrist that is speaking to us, and exhorting us to
proud independence. Self-will is the essence of anti-christian religion. Self-will is the
root of bitterness, that is springing up in the churches in these days. And it is not
from above, it is from beneath. It is earthly, sensual, devilish.
THUS SAITH THE LORD:
"I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on
will show mercy"--Exodus 33:19. (see also Romans 9:8-24)
"I, even I, am He, and there is no God with Me. I kill and I make
alive; I wound
and I heal; neither is there any that can deliver out of My hand"--Deut. 32:39.
"Behold He breaketh down, and it cannot be built again; He shutteth up
and there can be no opening"--Job 12:14.
"He doeth according to His will in the army of heaven, and among the
inhabitants of the earth, and none can stay His hand, or say unto Him, What
doest Thou?"--Dan. 4:35.
"Who hath saved us and called us with an holy calling, not according to
works, but according to His own purpose and grace, given us in Christ Jesus
before the world began?" --II Tim. 1:9.