What’s the Difference Between the Decretive and the Preceptive Wills of God?
The secret things of the LORD our God belong to Him. That refers to what we call the hidden will of God. Now usually when we’re speaking of the hidden will of God we have in our mind the decretive will of God. And when people say to me, “What is the will of God for my life?” I say, remember that the Bible uses the word “will of God” in several different ways. The first way in which we talk about the will of God is what we call the decretive will; and the decretive will of God is that will of God by which God sovereignly brings to pass whatsoever He wills. Sometimes it’s called the absolute will of God; sometimes it’s simply called the sovereign will of God; sometimes it’s called in theology the efficacious will of God. But normally, we talk about the decretive will of God. That is, when God decrees sovereignly that something should come to pass, it must needs come to pass.
The Bible frequently speaks about the determinate counsel of God. Where, when God has decreed from all eternity that Christ should die on the cross in Jerusalem at a particular time in history, it must needs come to pass. It comes to pass through the determinate counsel or will of God. That’s what we’re talking about when we’re talking about the decretive will of God. That will that God brings to pass by the sheer power of His sovereignties. It’s irresistible, it has to happen. When God calls the world into existence, it comes into existence. It cannot not begin, the lights cannot not come on when He says, “Let there be light.” That’s the decretive will of God.
Now, we also talk about the preceptive will of God. And we understand that the decretive will of God cannot be resisted. The preceptive will of God not only can be resisted by us, but is resisted all the time. The preceptive will of God is a reference to God’s law; to His commandments. This is the will of God that you not have any other God’s before Him. Now when people call me and they say, “How can I know the will of God for my life?” I want to say to them, what will are you talking about? Are you talking about the decretive will of God? Are you talking about the hidden will of God? If you’re talking about the hidden will of God, the first thing you have to understand about the hidden will of God is that it’s hidden.
And when people say to me, “What does God want me to do in this sort of case?” I say, how do I know? I study theology, but I can’t read God’s mind. All I can do is read God’s Word. And what God’s Word does for me is give me His revealed will. And that’s enough of a task to last me my lifetime trying to sort out everything that is in this book that God has revealed. And if you’re asking me about that I can help you with it; but if you’re asking me about His hidden will, you’re asking the wrong person, because I have no earthly idea what is in God’s mind where He has not revealed Himself.
Now Calvin made his comment at this point, he says, “Where God closes His holy mouth, I will desist from inquiry.” I’ll say that again, “Where God closes His holy mouth, I will desist from inquiry.” Now to translate that into modern nomenclature, we would say something like this, “The hidden will of God is none of your business, that’s why it’s hidden.”