Chapter one explores the meaning of God’s will. Dr. Sproul makes it clear that the will of God is no matter to trifle with. Indeed “to search for the will of God can be an exercise in piety or impiety, an act of humble submission or outrageous arrogance – depending on what will of God we seek. To try to look behind the veil at what God has not been pleased to reveal is to tamper with holy things that are out-of-bounds.”
Sproul argues that Christians have a habit of looking for simplistic answers that yield unhelpful and unbiblical results.
The author rightly notes that the will of God is spoken of in more than one way in Scripture. The first Greek term he explains is boule, which expresses a “rational and conscious desire.” This term is contrasted with the Greek word, thelema which means “an impulsive or unconscious desire.”
Sproul points out that boule usually refers to God’s providential and predetermined plan (see Acts 2:23) while thelema has more to do with a will of consent, desire, or command.
This leads to a discussion of the decretive will of God and the preceptive will of God. The decretive will (or will of decree/secret will) is what God ordains in eternity past: “When God sovereignly decrees something in this sense, nothing can prevent it from coming to pass.” Sproul warns against restricting the will of God to the sovereign will. He warns against embracing a “what will be, will be” attitude which is in the final analysis a “sub-Christian form of fatalism.”
The decretive will of God stands alongside the preceptive will of God (or will of command/revealed will). The preceptive will of God is violated and disobeyed by people every day. Sproul continues, “The preceptive will of God is found in His law. The precepts, statutes, and commandments that He delivers to His people make up the preceptive will.” Sproul also introduces God’s will of disposition which is “tied up with the ability of man to disobey God’s preceptive will.”
The author includes a helpful section on righteousness and argues that “true faith manifests itself in righteousness … We are called to bear witness to the righteousness of God in every area of life – from our prayer closets to our courtrooms, from our pews to our marketplaces.”
In the final analysis, Sproul maintains that the will of God is a serious matter to consider for every Christian. We must embrace the distinctions that surface in Scripture that concern the will of God. We must resist any inclination to uncover the secret aspect of his will. On the other hand, we must strive to obey the revealed will of God and pursue righteousness.
Chapter two overviews the meaning of man’s will. The author urges readers to examine how the will of man functioned before the fall and how it consequently functions after the fall. He applies Augustine’s classic formulation which outlines four possibilities:
1. Able to sin
2. Able not to sin
3. Unable to sin
4. Unable not to sin
This helpful discussion leads Sproul into an exposition of man’s radical fallenness. He argues with Augustine that post-fall man no longer has the ability “to not sin.” He continues to articulate the anthropological position of the bishop of Hippo: “Augustine declared that in his prefallen state, man enjoyed both a free will and moral liberty. Since the fall, man has continued to have a free will, but has lost the moral liberty he once enjoyed.” Additionally, he compares Augustine’s views with Jonathan Edwards in his monumental work, Freedom of the Will. While they differ at some points on terminology, their views are virtually identical.
Sproul boils the subject of free will into a clear sentence that we are so accustomed to: “Stated simply, man still has the ability to choose what he wants, but lacks the desire for true righteousness.” He stands on the shoulders of Jonathan Edwards by reasserting his view: “Not only can we choose according to our strongest desires, we must choose according to our strongest desires of the moment.”
The author presents the dominant position that has emerged in the church (and contrasts the Augustinian position). This view wrongly holds that the will is “free from any internal rule of disposition or desire.”
Chapter three discusses God’s will as it relates to vocation. The author seeks to answer four questions that help answer the vocational dilemma that is so common:
1. What can I do?
2. What do I like to do?
3. What should I like to be able to do?
4. What should I do?
Finally, Dr. Sproul provides helpful advise for those seeking God’s will when it comes to marriage. His arguments are biblical, balanced, and encouraging.
The book under consideration is a short book. But make no mistake – this is vintage Sproul! Once again, R.C. makes difficult truths understandable and readable. His writing is typically clear and biblical. While brief, Sproul’s work is perhaps the best work I have read on the will of God to date.