The Will of God: Does God Desire the Salvation of All?

by Ron F. Hale

I never grow weary contemplating the joy of God’s great and glorious salvation! This article will deal with the significant work of Dr. Kenneth Keathley (SEBTS) in his book entitled: Salvation and Sovereignty released in 2010. In Chapter 2, Keathley poses this question: Does God Desire the Salvation of All?

Historically, four probable answers have been put forth in various theological camps and Keathley deals with each view. I will mention each view while sharing some of Keathley’s thoughts, as well as my own; therefore, this piece is far from a review of Keathley’s great work.

The first two views that Keathley shares posits that God has a singular salvific will, while the last two views hold that God has two wills.

Universalism – holds that God is love and His salvific will is that everyone will be saved.

Scriptures like I John 4:8 seem to sum up and define the undivided essence of God by simply saying, “God is love.” The Universalist pushes aside the individual’s moral responsibility and personal response to God’s genuine offer of salvation to finely focus of God’s love being His all-encompassing character; therefore, the damnation of any soul becomes unreasonable.  

Keathley reminds us that the church has historically rejected universalism but it has gained new adherents in recent days.

Modern day spiritual freelancers will quickly move the essence of “God is love” away from the historic bedrock belief that Jesus Christ is the only way to God. This seems too constraining and unsympathetic to the Universalist. They may add a little “God Within Me” spirituality, maybe some Deepak Chopra, a tad of Celestine Prophecy, and topped off with some Oprah-ianity and come up with a big helping of “choose your own Jesus.” Very quickly the place called hell—save the one we create for ourselves on this planet– is morphed into a universal divine consciousness where everyone will eventually experience the Eternal Spirit in becoming “One” with God and the mystery of His love. Even Hitler, Stalin, and Mengele get saved in universalism.

Double Predestination — in this singular salvific view explored by Keathley, he shows how this position teaches that God only desires to save some.

While Unitarians focus on the love of God, decretal theologians focus on the sovereignty of God.   They see God’s sovereignty as His defining characteristic. All other attributes are to be understood through the prism of God’s sovereignty and that He decreed certain things from eternity. This includes the belief that God decreed the salvation of a select and definite group of individuals (the elect) while actively passing over some (supralapsarianism) or passively passing over some (infralapsarianism). Those whom God passes over are the reprobates and reprobation declares that there is no saving inward call for the nonelect.

Either way, decretal theology teaches that God has only one salvific will and that His intent is to save only His chosen. The doctrines of limited atonement, irresistible grace, reprobation, and “regeneration before faith” are born out of decretal theology.

To escape the conclusion of reprobation, many Reformed and non-Reformed theologians look to a two-will option.

The Hidden/Revealed Wills Paradigm – is the third option mentioned by Keathley and it postulates that God has two wills.

The revealed will of God proclaims that the good news is through Jesus Christ and He is graciously for us. For instance, the Great Commission reveals the universal salvific will of God.

On the other hand, this option suggests that God also has a hidden (or secret) will in which, for reasons known only to Him, He has decreed to pass by many, leaving them to determine their own destiny out of a heart enslaved to sin.

Alas, the hidden/revealed will of God has deep-rooted problems. The preacher may silently harbor conflicting angst (even feelings of hypocrisy) while strongly adhering to the hidden will of God but preaching the revealed will of God’s redemptive love for all and Christ dying for them. Keathley mentions a quote by D. Engelsma regarding the preacher hearing an inward whisper that says, “But He will actually save only some of you and He will not save others of you according to His own sovereign will.”

Even worse, the hidden/revealed wills approach appears to make God out to be hypocritical. If God (on the surface) truly offers everyone salvation, but secretly wills the reprobation of many, then one has to conclude that God never had an honest intention to make a genuine offer of salvation to all.

The question is not “Why are the lost lost?” but “Why aren’t the lost saved?” Keathley borrows a thought and phrase from Walls and Dongrell in their book Why I Am Not a Calvinist (186-187) by saying, “The nasty, awful, ‘deep-dark-dirty-little-secret’ of Calvinism is that it teaches there is one and only one answer to the second question, and it is that God does not want them saved.”

The Antecedent/Consequent Wills Paradigm – is the fourth option mentioned by Keathley. This view finds no conflict between the two wills of God. For God is seen as “antecedently” willing all to be saved. But for those who refuse to repent and believe He “consequently” wills that they should be condemned.

God antecedently “loved the world in this way: He gave His one and only Son.” That consequently “that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.” Christ antecedently orders the gospel preached “to every creature,” but He consequently decrees that “he that believeth not shall be damned.”

On the antecedent side—this view is universal (desired for all, provided for all, and offered to all). It is impartial for Christ died for the sins of the whole world. Also, this view sees God’s will to save all as sincere; there is no hidden or secret will or reprobation. The antecedent will to save all is the basis of God’s actions to provide the means of grace to sinners through Christ.

On the consequent will side—this view is consistent with the qualities with which God has endowed His creatures. Humans are fallen, but they are still in the image of God. God’s grace is not coercive and can be resisted and refused. When the sinner encounters the gospel, he is graciously enabled by the Spirit to respond freely; and to accept or reject the gospel is genuinely, terrifyingly, his (the hearer).

God holds the unbeliever accountable because the sin of unbelief truly belongs to the unbeliever (John 3:18). Those condemned by God are justly condemned because receiving Christ was a choice genuinely available. Therefore, the antecedent/consequent wills position brings glory to God by maintaining that His dealings are just and consistent with His holy nature.

For the recap and closing, four options concerning God’s salvific will are presented and discussed by Dr. Keathley; they are:

  • God has one will that all are saved.
  • God has one will that certain ones are saved.
  • God has two wills – one hidden and the other revealed.
  • God has two wills – an “antecedent will” for the salvation of all and a “consequent will” that  faith is the condition to salvation.

 

Until reading Dr. Keathley’s work several years ago, the only “two will” approach that I knew about was the hidden/revealed wills paradigm and I disagreed with it. I concur with Keathley that the antecedent/consequent will best captures the testimony of the Scriptures and the Great Commission.