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A Double-Minded God Unstable in All His Ways

Rev. Martyn McGeown

(Article originally published in the British Reformed Journal, issues 57 & 58)



A Fatal Concession

“My aim here is to show from Scripture that the simultaneous existence of God’s will for ‘all persons to be saved’ (I Tim. 2:4) and his will to elect unconditionally those who will actually be saved is not a sign of divine schizophrenia or exegetical confusion.” Thus begins John Piper in an article entitled, “Are There Two Wills in God?”1

Piper fails. He fails because he concedes the argument to the Arminian right at the beginning. He acknowledges that there is an exegesis of I Timothy 2:4 and II Peter 3:9 which would demonstrate that the “all men” and “any” in those texts do not refer to every single human being head for head. We assume the reader is familiar with such exegesis. But, writes Piper, “this limitation of God’s universal saving will has never been convincing to Arminians” and “[the Ezekiel trio of 18:23, 32 and 33:11] are even less tolerant of restriction.” To this we might answer, the Arian has never found our exegesis of John 14:28 or Colossians 1:15 convincing; the Romanist has never found our exegesis of Matthew 16:18 convincing; and the Charismatic has never found our exegesis of Acts 2 or I Corinthians 12-14 convincing. That is no reason to grant any ground—or even to concede the whole argument—to the theological opponent!

Before we offer what we hope is convincing exegesis of the Ezekiel passages, let us examine Piper’s supposed “solution” to a problem, a problem which he and other theologians have been forced to invent by the inconsistency of their position. In reality, there is no problem. The Scriptures plainly and consistently teach that God has decreed—and therefore desires—only the salvation of the elect. God has no desire—saving or otherwise—for the salvation of anyone else. In fact, God desires and is pleased to damn the reprobate. To that end God sent Christ to die for the elect and not to die for the reprobate. Piper claims to believe the Five Points of Calvinism but he believes—as do many other modern Calvinists—that God desires something in addition to what He has decreed in His eternal counsel concerning election and reprobation, namely the salvation of the reprobate, and that God sincerely “offers” salvation to all without exception. Moreover, Piper compromises Limited Atonement or Particular Redemption. In Article 7 of the “Elder Affirmation of Faith” of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, where he is Senior Pastor, he confesses that “Christ died for all but not in the same way.”2 Therefore, Piper, for all his popularity, is not a five-point Calvinist. He is compromised by a form of Amyraldianism.

Piper teaches that “God may desire the death of the wicked and in another sense he may not.” Piper seeks to hold in “tension”—and the Calvinists he admires do the same thing; hence one would assume that he does not admire us—“the universal saving will of I Timothy 2:4 with the individual unconditional election of Romans 9:6-23.”


A Double-Minded Deity

Piper is correct in one respect. God’s will can and indeed must be distinguished. He affirms and defends the standard Calvinist distinction between the will of God’s decree and the will of God’s command: “God [wills] for sin to come to pass while at the same time [He disapproves of] the sin;” “God intends to bring about events that involve things he forbids;” “God sometimes wills to bring about what he disapproves.” There is a sense in which God’s will is “his moral instruction” and there is a sense in which God’s will is “the state of affairs that he sovereignly [brings] about.” All of this is perfectly orthodox and helpful, and Piper appeals to the classic passage in Acts 4:27-28.

But Piper makes a grave error. He applies that perfectly legitimate and good distinction of command and decree to God’s decree itself. Piper’s god becomes double-minded and unstable at this point—willing and longing for things which he has not decreed and concerning which he has decreed the opposite. The god described by Piper “wavereth” and “is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed ... a double minded man is unstable in all his ways” (James 1:6, 8).

Piper’s “solution” is to appeal to the “complexity” of God. Now a Reformed man must pause right here. The complexity of God! We do not believe in the complexity of God, but in the simplicity of God. First, hear Piper: “God’s emotional life is infinitely complex beyond our ability to fully comprehend.” “Who of us could say what complex of emotions is not possible for God?” “[God’s] motivation is complex and not every true element in it rises to the level of effective choice.” Also, “In his great and mysterious heart there are kinds of longings and desires that are real—they tell us something true about his character. Yet not all these longings govern God’s actions.” What Piper is seeking to articulate is this: God desires some things more than He desires other things. God’s desires are complicated. God’s mercy toward the reprobate is real but not enough for Him actually to save the reprobate. There is another conflicting desire in His heart which is greater than His desire to save the reprobate. That desire is to glorify Himself in His justice.

Both the double-minded god of Piper and the god of Arminianism face the same dilemma. In both schemes, God “wills something that in fact does not happen.” Many people perish whom God supposedly desires to save—and, in the case of Piper’s god, longs to save with a complex emotion of compassionate desires. Given this dilemma, Piper sees certain possibilities. The first possibility is that “there is a power in the universe greater than God’s which is frustrating him by overruling what he wills.” Piper rightly rejects that idea. The other possibility, which Piper affirms and seeks to defend, is that “God wills not to save all, even though he is willing to save all, because there is something else that he wills more, which would be lost if he exerted his sovereign power to save all.” Remember Piper wants to avoid double speak? He fails!

What is that more desirable thing than God’s desire to save all? The Arminian would say that “human self-determination and the possible resulting love relationship with God are more valuable than saving all people by sovereign efficacious grace.” Free will is more important to God than the salvation of all men! God would rather see the majority of people go to hell than “violate” one man’s free will! That is Piper’s evaluation of Arminianism—and Piper is tolerant of Arminianism! Piper’s answer is different: “the greater value is the manifestation of the full range of God’s glory in wrath and mercy (Rom. 9:22-23) and the humbling of man so that he enjoys giving all credit to God for his salvation.” Piper’s god has two or more commitments. He is committed to saving all—he really wants that—and he is committed to glorifying himself in his wrath and justice. Since this god cannot have both, he allows one commitment to dominate the other in the complexity of his mind. Divine schizophrenia? Absolutely!


A Genuine But Unexercised Compassion

So here is Piper’s position and supposed solution to the “problem:” God’s desire to save all conflicts with another desire in God according to which He desires to glorify Himself in both His wrath and mercy. God wants to save all—He really does, and we should take Him at His word—but He restrains Himself (Piper’s language) from saving all. To illustrate this, Piper quotes from Robert L. Dabney in his Evangelical and Theological Discussions. Dabney relates a story from the life of George Washington, who signed the death warrant of a certain Major André, who had been guilty of treason. Washington had genuine compassion on Major André, and sovereign power to save or destroy the man’s life, but “Washington’s volition to sign the death warrant of André did not arise from the fact that his compassion was slight or feigned,” writes Dabney, “but from the fact that it was rationally counterpoised by a complex of superior judgments ... of wisdom, duty, patriotism and moral indignation.” Dabney applies this illustration to God: “the absence of volition in God to save does not necessarily imply the absence of compassion.” God’s true compassion is “yet restrained in the case of the ... non-elect by consistent and holy reasons from taking the form of a volition to regenerate.”

The consistent Calvinistic exegesis of I Timothy 2:4, II Peter 3:9 and the Ezekiel passages might be unsatisfying to an Arminian, but this explanation of God is hardly satisfying to an Arminian either and should be abhorrent to every right-thinking Reformed child of God! God has compassion on a sinner but He does not go so far as to save the sinner? What kind of compassion is that? God’s real, unfeigned and genuine compassion ends in the lake of fire! God save us from the real, unfeigned and genuine compassion of Piper’s (and Dabney’s) muddle-headed god! There can be, in the words of Piper, “in a noble and great heart (even a divine heart) sincere compassion for a criminal that is nevertheless not set free.” That might be the “compassion” of a George Washington but it can never be the compassion of Almighty God!


God’s Blessed Simplicity

Piper’s exegesis—if one could even call it exegesis—is flawed for one main reason. Piper does not define any of the key concepts on which he is writing. If he did, he would be less muddle-headed and would not dare impose his double-mindedness on the Almighty. Piper writes of God’s compassion, mercy or pity, and of God’s complexity. The first is a biblical concept not defined or explained—perhaps it is elsewhere, but a precise definition is absent in the article we are critiquing—and the second is not biblical.

Let us begin by refuting Piper’s notion of the “complexity” of God. A Reformed man (and Piper, who belongs to the neo-Calvinists, is not Reformed) is immediately reminded of what the creeds teach about the simplicity of God: “We believe with the heart, and confess with the mouth, that there is one only simple and spiritual Being, which we call God ...” (Belgic Confession 1). God is “a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions” (Westminster Confession 2:1). We are complex because we are created and fallen beings with a maelstrom of emotions. God is simple because He is the perfect God of peace and harmony. God is never confused, agitated or disturbed within His own Being. Created reality external to Himself never throws the Almighty into turmoil—not even the many prayers God must answer, something Piper mentions in an attempt to prove the complexity of God. Because God is simple, all of His attributes are equal with His Being and with one another. Therefore, God’s mercy is never at odds with His justice. God is His mercy and God is His justice, and God’s mercy and justice are one in Him. God’s mercy, then, is an infinite, unchangeable, eternal, almighty, just and holy mercy! God only has one mercy, not two mercies. He does not have one common mercy which—although unfeigned, genuine and sincere—does not save, and another mercy which effectually saves His elect church. Moreover, because God is one and simple, His will is simple. This is because God is His will. God’s will is not “part” of God, as if we could ever separate God’s will from God Himself. God’s will is God’s willing, and God wills eternally and unchangeably and efficaciously. God never wills—decrees and therefore desires—things which never come to pass. God never wills contradictory things at the same time—such as to will to save all men and to will to save only some men. This is not the invention of Reformed scholastics but the teaching of Scripture. Piper knows the passages and even quotes them (Ps. 115:3; Isa. 46:10; Dan. 4:35; etc.), but this does not restrain Piper from attributing folly to the Almighty. About God, James writes that He is “the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (1:17).

Next time, we will critique the muddle-headed mercy of Piper’s double-minded god, and give a Reformed exegesis of the Ezekiel trio, Piper’s so-called “pillars of universal love.”

1 John Piper, “Are There Two Wills in God? Divine Election and God’s Desire for All to Be Saved” (
2 “Elder Affirmation of Faith” (


Muddleheaded Mercy

John Piper is muddled on God’s mercy. Many Christians share his muddled thinking. If you ask the average Christian to define mercy, they will say something like, “Mercy is God not giving us what we deserve. Mercy is God delaying punishment. Mercy is God giving undeserved gifts to people.” But none of those things are God’s mercy. First, mercy is an attribute of God, and as such God is merciful to Himself! In fact, God is rich—infinitely rich—in mercy and the overflowing fountain of all good (Eph. 2:4). God’s mercy within Himself is His delighting in Himself as the highest and only good. Because God is merciful He can never be sad, and everything He does serves His unchangeable blessedness. Second, God’s mercy flows from the fullness of His being toward the elect. It manifests itself as compassion, pity or tenderheartedness. God’s mercy is shown toward the miserable and wretched who have become miserable in sin. The Old Testament word for mercy is hesed which means steadfast covenant love. Third, God’s mercy is not a powerless pity but the almighty power of God to deliver His people from misery and to bring them to experience the highest blessedness, which is to taste and know that God is good and the overflowing fountain of all good.

If that is mercy, it cannot be what Piper says it is: genuine compassion which does not save because God prioritizes another desire or commitment over it. God never prioritizes anything higher than showing mercy to His people in Jesus Christ. This is because showing mercy, in which God is sovereignly free (Rom. 9:15), serves to glorify God. Mercy, however, is not common or ineffectual—two flaws in the mercy of Piper’s god. The Bible never teaches that God is merciful to the wicked, or even that He desires to be merciful to them but “restrains Himself” because of more pressing concerns. God delays the punishment of the wicked and God gives the wicked good things which they do not deserve, but that is not mercy!

Psalm 136 repeats the refrain that God’s mercy is eternal and particular. In every verse in this Psalm of twenty-six verses the Psalmist sings, “for his mercy endureth forever.” Very instructive is the contrast between the objects of God’s mercy (elect Israel) and the objects of God’s wrath. Why did God kill Egypt’s firstborn (v. 10), destroy Pharaoh and his host (v. 15) and smite great kings (vv. 17-20)? Because His mercy endureth forever—toward the elect. In Psalm 143:12 the elect believer prays, “And of thy mercy cut off mine enemies.”

And notice Scripture does not say that one of God’s mercies endureth forever but another of God’s mercies endures only for a short time and ends in the lake of fire! God only has one mercy, and it endures forever!


Piper’s Pillars of Universal Love

This brings us to the trio of Ezekiel passages which Piper calls “pillars of universal love.”

It is bizarre that Ezekiel should have been misused for so long because it was the last thing from Ezekiel’s mind—and from the Spirit’s mind who inspired Ezekiel—to teach that God loves, has mercy on and desires to save all men. Such a concept was utterly foreign to the Old Testament. We sometimes read the Bible through the lens of modern sentimentalism. Today, it is controversial to teach that God does not love everyone. In biblical times, it was controversial to teach that God’s love extends beyond Israel. That is why the “world” and “all men” passages in the New Testament were revolutionary in their day. Modern man has taken them too far. They do not mean every man head for head, but the Jews were reluctant to take them far enough; they do mean all nations, tribes and tongues. The Jew-Gentile distinction has indeed been broken down.

The Ezekiel trio of 18:23, 32 and 33:11 speak of God’s good pleasure: “Have I any pleasure ...?”, “I have no pleasure ...”, “As I live ... I have no pleasure.” Piper does not define God’s good pleasure, but since the article we are examining is an appendix to his book, The Pleasures of God, we assume he did so elsewhere. God’s good pleasure is at least three things. First, it is what God is pleased to do, that which seemed good to Him to decree and execute for His own glory (Ps. 115:3; 135:6; Eph. 1:5). Second, God’s good pleasure is that in which He delights or that which is pleasing in His sight. Third, it is that of which He approves in His creatures and therefore that which He commands (such as obedience and repentance). In Ezekiel, God declares emphatically with an oath that He does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked (18:23; 33:11) or in the death of him that dieth (18:32). But what Piper (and the Arminians) reads into the text is this: God earnestly desires that all wicked men, whoever and wherever they are, in every age and nation, not perish but turn and live. That is not what Ezekiel is teaching!

First, the context forbids it. The solemn oath of Jehovah in 33:11 occurs after chapters 25-32 in which God has prophesied death, destruction, doom and damnation upon Ammon, Moab, Edom, Philistia, Tyre, Sidon and Egypt. Are we seriously expected to believe that God did not desire the death of any of the wicked in any of those reprobate nations? How did God—who affirms this with a solemn oath—show this desire to save those wicked? Did God even send a prophet to announce the glad tidings to these nations that He did not have any pleasure in their death? Second, Ezekiel’s careful qualifications forbid Piper’s view. Which wicked does God have in mind? The house of Israel (18:32; 33:11)! Moreover, within the house of Israel, addressed as one organic whole, God does not even have all the wicked in mind. God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked who turn. “Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord God: and not that he should return from his ways, and live?” “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live.” God says nothing here about any pleasure or displeasure He might have in the death of the wicked who does not turn. In fact—and Piper even quotes this text—there are some wicked in whose death God does delight, whose death does please God. I Samuel 2:25, speaking of the reprobate sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, teaches that “they hearkened not unto the voice of their father, because the Lord would slay them.” Literally, I Samuel 2:25 says, “because the Lord delighted, took pleasure in and willed to cause them to die.” God did take pleasure in the death of these two non-turning, wicked, reprobate men. Hophni and Phinehas, although Israelites and sons of the high priest, were never the object of God’s favour or love. God never had compassion on them. God never desired to save them, not even with a desire which He supposedly “restrained” under a conflicting desire to destroy them. They are not part of the wicked whose death gives God no pleasure.

This truth that God has no pleasure in the death of the repenting wicked is the pastoral appeal of Ezekiel’s prophecy. Especially this is the case in chapter 33. God’s people were in exile. They had seen their hopes dashed when news returned to them from Jerusalem. God’s holy city and temple had been destroyed. In verse 10, the people lament, “If our transgressions and our sins be upon us, and we pine away in them, how should we then live?” Despair was in the camp of the exiles. God has finished with His people; there is no mercy, even if we turn, because the covenant is broken and Christ will never come. It was to that people that Ezekiel brings comfort—not to the heathen, not to everybody, not to the hardened and impenitent, but to God’s despairing people. There is salvation and life for the wicked who turns—no matter how wicked he may be. The people of God in Ezekiel’s audience needed that encouragement and we do too. Their companions were telling them that there was no point in turning, and the devil wanted them to despair so that they would never repent. God answers the fear of His own people who were sorry for their sins but were afraid to repent. God swears that there is life for the one who turns. Essentially what God says is this, “As I live, if I have no life for the wicked who turns, then I am not God. If the wicked turns to me from sin and finds no life in me, I am not the living God.” Behind that solemn promise stands the cross.

It would have been nonsense and no comfort if Ezekiel had said to his contemporaries, “Do not worry. Jehovah loves everybody. He really desires to save everybody.” The Israelites would have looked at him with incredulous astonishment (our reaction ought to be this too, if we know the Scriptures). “If God wants to save everybody,” Ezekiel’s audience might have asked, “Why did He not choose everybody? Why did He not make atonement for the sins of everybody? And why does He not give life to everybody?” Ezekiel could not have answered as Piper does, “Well, God does want to save everybody, but in his complex mind, God wants something more, which is to show his justice by destroying the wicked. But you must understand that this in no way negates God’s genuine compassion towards the wicked whom He will punish forever in hell for their sins.”

Ezekiel’s God is no hypocrite who offers something He does not have. That is the god of the modern, confused, conflicted Calvinist like Piper: a god who is muddleheaded and double-minded, and thus unstable in all his ways.