Rutherford, The Will of God and ‘Desire’

The Supremacy of God in the Theology of Samuel Rutherford (Studies in Christian History and Thought)I’ve been really enjoying Guy Richard’s work on Rutherford.  With Richard’s and Coffey’s complimentary studies Rutherford is well served in terms of fair representations of his life and theology.  Richard’s work is well written and a pleasure to read, but it is not “easy,” is fairly “in depth” and definitely requires concentration!  The best thing about the book is that he “gets” Rutherford and understands the theological tradition, and therefore the distinctions, Rutherford was working with.  [He is a country mile or ten ahead of me!]  One key distinction which bears on my own studies is over the will of God and how we understand the relationship between God’s commands (revealed will) and his decree (secret will).  What Richard’s says is eminently helpful:

…the voluntas signi, which is the ‘revealed’ (revelata), ‘approving’ (approbans), or ‘commanding’ (preacipiens) will of God, whereby he makes known to his creatures all that he approves of, as being ‘morally lawful and noble, even if the future actuality of … [those] good thing[s] may never by decreed by God.’  In this way God desires, approves, and commands many things to be done, which he decrees not to be done in actuality … For example Rutherford says that God ‘desires the obedience of Judas and Herod and Pilate‘, by his approving, commanding and revealed will, and ‘yet he decreed [by his hidden or decretive will] that they should crucify the Lord of Glory‘.
p103 [emphasis added]

So according to Richard, Samuel Rutherford, man of extremes that he was, had no difficulty with speaking of the “desire” of God (as defined above) for things he had not decreed.  Who would have thought it possible 😉

PS Much more to come from this book – it really is top notch.

3 Responses to “Rutherford, The Will of God and ‘Desire’”

  1. Marty Foord Says:

    Wow! That’s interesting. The Prot Scholastics that I’ve read tend to draw a distinction between God’s “desire” and “delight”. They’re happy to say that the voluntas signi shows what is God’s “delight” in that it is commensurate with his nature, but they’re usually not happy to call this “desire” because it should be associated with God’s voluntas beneplaciti. It’s fascinating to see Rutherford drawing this conclusion. He is a theologian yet to be fully unearthed. Looks like I better buy the book!

    Blessings, DJ.


  2. Stephen Tipton Says:

    John Murray says much the same thing:

    We have found that God himself expresses an ardent desire for the fulfilment (sic) of certain things which he has not decreed in his inscrutable counsel to come to pass. This means that there is a will to the realization of what he has not decretively willed, a pleasure towards that which he has not been pleased to decree. (Writings, Vol 4, p 131)

  3. Donald John MacLean Says:

    Hi Marty

    It is a good book – I’d almost say Richard Muller good. What is interesting is that this appears in a formal discussion of the will of God – most of the uses of the word I have are in more informal settings e.g. sermons. I obviously have not read Rutherford’s Latin works but from the rest of the book I would trust Dr Richard that his handling of Rutherford is fair here and his translation accurate. I cover Durham on “desire” and the will of God in the forthcoming article.

    Hi Stephen

    Thanks for the Murray quote.

    Every blessing

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