Part One 12. Man’s Will or God’s

The Problem of EVIL and The Judgments of GOD

GOD'S WILL is not only ignored by the world today, but even His saints set it aside, or water it down to a mere wash. How few there are who hold that the universe is being operated according to the counsel of His will! It has become the fashion to say that will means wish, and the margins of some Bibles do not hesitate to change it to desire. We are assured that God does not will all mankind to be saved, but merely desires it, and, since man wills otherwise, He is quite powerless and impotent before the superior force of human determination. God is He Who is operating in us to will (Phil.2:13), yet even those who teach a "full surrender" insist that our own will is to be the means of honoring Him. The truth is that man's will is always opposed to God's, and the saints are safe only so long as they accept His will, as revealed in the Scriptures, and reject their own.

Because the English word will is popularly used in a variety of ways it has lost the definiteness which it should have in the Scriptures. In the Authorized Version it is the mistranslation of counsel, opinion, wish, about, eagerness, delight, accord, and voluntary. Greek lexicons also lack clearness, and usually give a number of synonyms which define other Greek words. Thus wish is euchomai, which lacks entirely the sense of determination essential to will, as is shown by its occurrences (Acts 26:29; 27:29; Rom.9:3; 2 Cor.13:7,9; James 5:16; 3 John 2). The words intend and intention have a more far-reaching significance. They come from the verb to plan, and look beyond the immediate action of the will to the ultimate result. This is very important in the passages where it occurs (Acts 27:43; Rom.9:19; 1 Peter 4:3). Resolution or resolve also takes us to the object to be attained, not the immediate posture of the mind. Purpose means before-place, a future accomplishment kept in view beforehand. Such terms do not define the Greek word thelema, but rather show what is not its meaning. The usual alternative given is desire, making it a matter of feeling rather than of mind. Passages are actually adduced to prove this, such as our Lord's words in Gethsemane, because the context is full of feeling and the sentence is in the negative. But even here (Mark 14:36), it is God's will as well as Christ's which is in view, and it is most unfortunate to speak of God's desire that Christ should endure His awful agony. It is our hazy, overlapping English usage which blinds us to the clear-cut distinctions of the inspired oracles.

Not only is the English word used for such a variety of terms in the original, but the Greek word will is translated by at least ten different English expressions, desire, be disposed, be forward, intend, list, love, mean, please, have rather, and will. How can there be aught but confusion when God's words are thus violated in a translation which purports to be God's Word? Desire is epithumia, and has to do with the feelings, rather than the determination. Be disposed is phroneoo, and expresses the bent or bias. Intend is boulomai. Love is agapaoo. Please, produce an agreeable sensation, is areskoo. It is impossible to get God's mind through man's mistranslations. The CONCORDANT VERSION uses only will, with want as an idiomatic alternative, to prevent confusion with the future tense, and behest in an evil sense in one passage (Eph.2:3). This may not always tickle our ears, but it will not fail to illumine our hearts.

In English idiom, a man who is willing to do or be something is a passive agent, who acquiesces or assents to another's wishes. Hence a true translation demands that we change the word in such cases to want. For many, it will be difficult to distinguish this from wish or desire, due to the vagueness of our language. As the element of desire is usually included in our determination, it is easy to confuse the two. In the CONCORDANT VERSION will or want as the translation of theloo always carries the thought beyond a mere wish.

The confusion which has arisen is evident on all sides. We are assured by those who take the place of teachers and have much light, that a very common use of this Greek verb theloo has the sense of desire or wish. As a result, each one interprets to suit his inclination, according to his system of theology. The tendency is to make it will when used of man, and wish when used of God, for if men are determined to have their own will and deny that God is entitled to anything more than a desire, they may as well go to the end of their tether, rather than hesitate on the way. In all our investigations it is well to recognize the inclination of man to exalt himself and to degrade God. Man has a "free will," we are told, and many are ready to defend the error. But where are the men who will fight for the "free will" of God?

But the greatest havoc is wrought when the believer is exhorted, either to abandon or to assert his own will. One of the most serious aspects of the present apostasy lies in a species of hypnotism or mesmerism, in which the subject seeks to yield himself entirely to an outside spirit, under the false supposition that, in so doing, he must, of necessity, fall in line with the will of God. But there are many wills in the world besides our own and God's. Many, unconsciously, are subject to an evil spirit, supposing that the impressions they receive come from God. They think they are, in effect, inspired, and imagine that they do not need the Scriptures in order to be guided by the holy spirit. The significant fact which condemns this system is its practical repudiation of the written Word. The true spirit of God communicates His will to us only through the medium of the Scriptures. To this spirit, we may safely say, "Thy will, not mine." But to spirits which speak directly, we should say, "God's will, not thine."

Still more subtle for the true student of the Scriptures is the teaching that we are to assert our wills. It was well expressed in a religious weekly as follows:

"Certain it is that God has given us our wills as a precious and vital stewardship to be used to his honor and glory. The life that has been born again by faith in Christ as Saviour, and then has been yielded in full surrender to him as Lord, is not a life from which the will disappears but in which it is to be used as never before, energized by the very power of `dynamite' dunamis of God. The surrendered, Spirit-filled life that rejoices to abide in Christ is far removed from one of passivity or inactivity. To all such are addressed the words: `It is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure' (Phil.2:13). The Greek verb here translated `will' is the same verb theloo, expressing something infinitely stronger than mere wish or desire, for it is the purpose, the determination, the very will of God that works in the lives of his children."

If our readers will consult all of the occurrences of theleema, WILL, they will obtain both pleasure and profit. Out of about sixty occurrences at least fifty speak of the will of God. Man's will is not very important, according to the divine reckoning. The list begins with "Thy will be done" (Matt.6:10) and ends with "for Thy pleasure [will] they are" (Rev.4:11). In Romans 2:18 God's will is recognized as the will which needs no further specification. The Jew knew the will because he had the divine oracles. The coming kingdom is briefly characterized as the time when men will not do their own will, but the Father's.

The whole mission of Christ may be summed up in this word, for He came to do the will of God (Heb.10:7,9). He amplified this when He said, "I am not seeking My will, but the will of Him Who sends Me" (John 5:30). This is emphasized by repetition, when, a little later, He protests, "I have descended from heaven, not that I should be doing My will, but the will of Him Who sends Me" (John 6:38). Is it anywhere apparent that Christ exercised His will except in complete accord with His Father? He did His Father's will and did not do His own. He was not "passive" but active, but that did not consist in asserting His will but in fulfilling His Father's. When, in Gethsemane, His will was out of line with God's, He was strengthened by a messenger (Luke 22:42,43), but His will was not. In the crisis of our lives, we do not need a vigorous determination, but strength to acquiesce in God's will for us, which involves the repudiation of our own.

But our principal object in writing this article is to call attention to the operation of man's will as presented in the Scriptures. Only a few hours after our Lord had resigned His will in order to do the Father's, Pilate gives Him up to their will (Luke 23:25). Here we have man's will crystallized into a single word, perhaps the most terrible which will haunt humanity until the consummation, "Crucify!" Whenever you hear human determination extolled, may your ears ring with the echo, "Crucify!" The will of man was brought to the great Touchstone and was found to be base metal. Even Pilate, who could have thwarted their will, did not succeed in curbing its stubbornness. Here is man's free will! "Crucify Him!"

Such was the will of those who had God's revelation, the religious nation, which had been trained by the law, and knew "the will" (Rom.2:18). Of these also it is said that they walked in accord with the spirit now operating in the sons of Stubbornness, doing the behests [wills] of the flesh and of the comprehension even as the rest (Eph.2:3). This is most illuminating. It shows that the will of a man, either Jew or gentile, is the compounded effect of complex causes, over none of which he has any control. There is a spirit, not his own, which influences him. His flesh demands recognition. His comprehension is another factor. Men do not really make up their minds. They are made up for them. All are powerfully influenced by the spirit forces which can be neither seen nor felt, but which can be detected by their effect. The spirit of the times carries men on its current. It does not conform to the will of man, but conforms his will to it. Then there is the flesh. Most men are mastered by their physical frame, and find their wills utterly powerless to oppose its behests. The mental atmosphere adds its influence. Human comprehension is darkened (Eph.4:18). As man is a creature, he cannot create his will out of nothing. He compounds it out of the material at hand. The kind and quality of the materials determine the character of his will, but he has no control over these elements. The process is subconscious, so he does not even apprehend what he is doing, any more than he comprehends the details of digestion. He can choose his food with conscious care, but he cannot supervise its assimilation. In the sphere of will, he is altogether at the mercy of influences beyond his powers of perception.

What do we do when we "make up our minds?" We simply open the doors to surrounding influences to see what is preponderant. Very often when we will a certain way we are utterly unable to give any rational reason for our determination. I have just been speaking with a member of the Chosen Race, who is undergoing much needless hardship in Palestine. There is no lack of money. Many sons in the United States are successful manufacturers. "I do not wish them to know how I am faring, or they would hire an aeroplane and fetch me home. Why do I stay here? I don't know! I came here on a visit, and I can't leave. Discomforts, distresses, isolation from my loved ones should draw me away. But I will stay here, There is something within me which I can't explain. It holds me here." The sacred associations of Palestine have much to do with the will of the Jewish people.

But a believer should not be caught in the current of the spirit which carries the sons of Stubbornness to destruction. They should not obey the behests of the flesh. Their own wills would involve the flesh. But we are not in flesh, but in spirit. Its behests should have no part in our lives. Its disposition is death. We do not walk according to it. Our comprehension is no longer darkened, it is true, but all of the actual light which it has comes to us direct from God, by His spirit, through His Word. In reality, this is not ours, but God's.

In place of the evil spirit which operates in the sons of Stubbornness, we are actuated by the holy spirit of God. Leaving out the flesh entirely, the spirit acts upon our minds to renew them by means of God's written revelation, that we may know with certainty what God's will is for it alone is good, and well-pleasing and mature (Rom.12:2). The will is no longer a mysterious, subconscious combination, formed in the dark without our intelligent cooperation, but a simple, uncompounded, illuminated renunciation of the influence of the flesh, of our own comprehension, and of the evil spirit forces which surround us, and an intelligent acceptance of God's revelation by the power of His holy spirit.

That this is so difficult to some of us arises from the fact that we allow our own will to modify God's. The factors that form it still assert themselves. Do not strengthen them! Crucify the flesh. Lean not on your own understanding. Reject the spirit of darkness. But most of the failure arises from an inaccurate immature and distorted knowledge of God's will. We cannot turn to an index and find specific directions for every crisis in our lives. This is not at all necessary. If we but knew His Word we would always find the factors for the solution of our problems. These should be so thoroughly assimilated into our systems that they become a part of our very being. We cannot do His will without knowing it. We cannot know it fully without a comprehension of His ways. This comes alone through an exact, a comprehensive, a mature insight into the Scriptures, more especially that which is the proper portion for this administration of God's grace.

In the final analysis, men really have no will absolutely their own. Like their bodies, the elements which compose it were external to themselves, and it becomes theirs only as a combination of these outside materials. But the combination is peculiar to themselves, so it becomes, in that sense, their very own. This is not the case, however, with the saint. There is no combination of materials, or should not be. The spirit of God alone, acting through a recognized written revelation, should take the place of our will. This is the only safe basis of action.

It would be sad, indeed, if our own will, compounded of the subconscious influence of the spirit, the flesh, and the comprehension, should be strengthened. It made us sons of Stubbornness before we believed. Strengthening will only make us more stubborn. There are saints like this, but it should not be encouraged. Instead of a precious and vital stewardship, our wills are a deadly and damaging deposit which we should discard. As our own wills are continually present with us, we need strength to repeat, with every heaving breath, "Not mine, but Thine!"

Happy is the man who has so harmonized himself with the will of God that he may speak of it as his own! So it was with our Lord, for the spirit world could not influence Him, His flesh was holy, and His comprehension perfect. He could say "I will" (Matt.8;3; Mark 1:41; Luke 5:13), and the cleansing of the leper shows what God's will coincided with His. It was His will to protect His people (Matt.23:37; Luke 13:34), but not theirs. He called to Himself whom He would (Mark 3:13). It was not His will to call fire from heaven to consume the Samaritans (Luke 9:54). He willed that His own should be with Him (John 17:24). Even in the garden of Gethsemane, when His will could not coincide with the Father's He rose above it and gave us the great motto which we need almost constantly, "Not what I will, but what Thou!" (Mark 14:36).

It is not our place or privilege to determine the actions of our fellow saints. Paul, with all his apostolic authority, did not coerce Apollos to come to Corinth. As distinct from our brethren, we may have a will differing from theirs even when both are in line with God's. Undoubtedly God wanted a record of Paul's entreaties of Apollos as an example for us to follow. The only difference was the time when he should come (1 Cor.16:12). They seemed to agree on all else. Apollos waited until the time was opportune. Paul was not acquainted with this element in Apollos' decision. It is impossible for us to know all the details in another's life, which determine his walk. Nor is it wise that we should. It is God's prerogative to order the lives of His people.

The seventh of Romans deals with the will of one under law (verses 15-21). He wants to do good, but cannot carry out his ideal. It is God's will applied to the flesh, in order to show that the flesh is not subject to God's law, for it is not able to fulfill its demands. What is the solution? The strengthening of man's will? No! It is grace, which delivers from the condemnation of the law. All sorts of methods have been tried to cultivate the human will so that it will enable men to overcome the propensity to sin. But the law itself is really an expression of the will of God for those to whom it was given. Nothing could be stronger than that. When it is written on their hearts, in the days to come, it will be quite adequate. Then, however, it will displace the human will, not strengthen it.

Our conclusion, that man's will is utterly excluded in the salvation of the sinner and in the sanctification of the saint, is fully confirmed by definite statements of Scripture. In the place where the basis of salvation is discussed (Rom.9:9-18), Paul insists that "it is not of him who is willing, nor yet of him who is racing, but of God, the Merciful." The perversity which persists in injecting passages on other subjects in order to nullify this decisive declaration is one of the saddest signs of our times. "Whosoever will" is testified to the ecclesias. These are invited to take the water of life gratuitously (Rev.22:17). The use of this phrase in preaching the evangel is a most flagrant perversion. Also, to reason that, because some will not come to Christ (John 5:40), therefore only those who will are saved, is only one more instance of the depravity of the human intellect. All men will not. Their will prevents them. Only the superior power of God's will brings men to Him.

Philippians is the epistle to discover what place man's will has in perfection experience. There we read that "it is GOD Who is operating in you to will as well as to work for the sake of His delight" (Phil 2:13). This is precisely what to expect from our previous investigations. The evil spirits no longer should affect our will, the flesh should be ruled out, our comprehension is not consulted and our determinations are to be based solely on the Scriptures. By means of His spirit and His Word our own will is superseded by His determination. The result should be not merely a righteous record in the sight of men, but a life to delight the heart of God.

A few of God's saints believe that the goal of God is to be All in all. Most of them will not believe this even though some say that they wish it were so. But there are two alls in this august assertion. How many of us realize the force of the first? It is dreadful to contemplate a universe in which God is all in only a few, and the rest are in torment eternal. It is sickening to survey the world as it is today though only a few are in actual agony, and that for a brief period. But more awful still is the vision of a world in which God is only a little in all. What terrible chaos would come if each creature should become independent of its Creator, going its own way without regard to the rest and without heeding Him! A single planet, if loosed from the law of gravitation, might wreck the whole solar system. If all were released, the imagination fails to picture the result. So with a world unleashed from the will of Jehovah. It would be death or torture eternal for all.

Great is the cry against making puppets, mere automatons, out of men. At all hazards, we are told, we must maintain human individuality and the godlike attribute of free will. What is the meaning of this? It is nothing less than the revolt of the creature against the Creator, the desire to be as God, even though it is always presented under the guise of religion. It is nowhere to be found in the Scriptures, but it is the basis of most interpretations of the Bible. Even in human affairs, it is impracticable. All social rules, all government, and laws of every kind are an infringement on the will of the individual. If we were absolutely alone in the universe we might be a law unto ourselves. But so long as we are related to our Creator and to our fellow creatures, there must be regulation, or there will be confusion and collision.

In their proud repudiation of the position of puppets, men are acting merely as phonographs, for they repeat a well-worn record made by the spirit that is operating in the sons of Stubbornness before man imagined he had a free will, in the garden of Eden. "You shall be as God." I repeat. He provides the record and he turns the handle and a man speaks. What a wonderful little god he is! He would really deceive himself much easier and play the part much better if he appeared as a puppet. Some of them are very convincing. Have you ever inquired whence man obtained this self-determination of which he is so proud? Have you ever pictured where it would land him if it were really allowed to run amuck? He is jerked about by invisible strings, by unseen hands, just as really as if he were a puppet in a Punch and Judy show.

He is merely a creature trying to convince himself that he is a creator. He has nothing that was not given him. He does nothing except under the force of an external or inherited stimulus. All that ails him is that he is ignorant. He is like many who drive automobiles in these days. They touch this button or shift that lever and it goes--or doesn't. They are quite exhilarated by the sense of power imparted by the speeding machine. But if the gasoline is exhausted on a lonely road, and they have to push the heavy car, or are unable to do so, the sense of power is replaced by a sad sense of impotence.

Few really realize what it means to be a creature. We cannot help acknowledging that our will was not consulted when we were born. We were not even asked where we desired that important event to take place, or who should have the honor of being our parents. Our frame, our figure, our face--all was forced upon us by an irresistible fate, against which many of us rebel. If most of the vital operations in our bodies were not involuntary we would perish at once, for not even the most famous of physicians understands all of its functions. Let this physical fact sink deep into our minds. Our bodies are not conjured out of space by our self-determination. We breathe the air, almost unconsciously. We partake of food and assimilate it altogether apart from our direction. The resultant, physical frame defies our determination. We want to be tall, so we are small. No one can add a cubit to his stature. The will has little effect on the tangible part of our make-up. So also with the intangible.

Our thought processes are hid from us by a thick veil of ignorance and unconsciousness. We need to be awake to receive and register outward impressions to some extent, but their assimilation into the body of our thoughts so as to produce ideas and guide our determination, is a subconscious operation, over which we have no control. Indeed, it is best accomplished during sleep. The unbeliever breathes in the spirit of the age. He is soulish and seeks the pleasures of the senses. His mind is impressed by the evidence of his faculties. These form his will. He is quite impotent to form any determination opposed to these forces. He is utterly at their mercy. He is not only a puppet, but a victim. When the law comes to enlighten him, he begins to realize his wretchedness (Rom.7:24). Salvation consists in the displacement of the spirit which operates in the sons of Stubbornness (Eph.2:2) by the spirit of God. The flesh and comprehension hinder its full realization until resurrection and vivification.

If the believer's will is subconsciously formed by the operation of the holy spirit, through contact with the Scriptures, his will is no more his own than is that of the unbeliever. It is God Who is operating in him to will. O, the blessedness of this condition! Puppet? No, but prophet! Slavery? No, but liberty! Misery? No, but happiness! Only thus are we normal creatures in harmony with our Creator. If the eyes of our hearts have been opened to God's grace we will dread our own determination. We will lose all confidence in ourselves, and know that, whatever is ours, as distinct from God's, can neither benefit us nor bless Him. So we rest gratefully in the only will that will work our weal.

But, some will say, We must will to do God's will. Very well then, if you will have it so. Our Lord preferred to put it otherwise. But how strong must our wills be to accept His? Is it to be a continual, exhaustive effort? Where are we to get the strength? In reference to God, it will be His will. As distinct from our fellows, we may call it ours for it will issue with infinite variety and diversity in the lives and experiences of us all. In regard to ourselves, we shall be delighted to make it ours, for there need be no conscious effort to conform to God's will as opposed to our own, when our bodies are transformed into spiritual and immortal. Only thus can God actually become all in us.

God's goal is to become All in His creatures. Is this to be attained by giving each an independent will so that they may be His rivals in the regulation of the universe? Is anarchy the end He has in view? To be all in another is the plainest form of infant speech, yet who knows the fullness of such simple syllables? Now, in creation, all live and move and are in Him. Then, by means of the sacrifice of His Son, the converse will be true. He will be all in them. All, not a little, or much, or most. Let no one dare to limit it! Naught will be in us but the loving, life-giving God, Whose spirit will operate, not only to give us indissoluble life, but to formulate our will and perform our work. Only thus will God get the glory and the praise and enjoy the delight which alone will satisfy His heart and fulfill the aim of His creation.

There is room for only one will in this world. Two wills is confusion, three is chaos. Give every creature an unconquerable will, and you create a condition which can only cause a continual and eternal clash. Peace and happiness will be impossible. Discord will drag all down to everlasting destruction. God will become all in none. Therefore it cannot be. He will be All in all. His will alone is irresistible. It only will prevail. It will operate in His eonian saints and bring back blessing to mankind. It will become the one will in all the universe. Harmony and sweet accord will reconcile all creatures to Him and to each other. All will sing the same song of His composing. In all, the mighty spirit of the living, life-giving God will operate with magnetic force to attract each creature into the normal, irresistible ecstatic, current of His loving, illuminating will. He will be their All.

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