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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II:
City of God: Chapter 2

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 2.—Of the Eternal and Unchangeable Will of God.

It is true that wicked men do many things contrary to God’s will; but so great is His wisdom and power, that all things which seem adverse to His purpose do still tend towards those just and good ends and issues which He Himself has foreknown.  And consequently, when God is said to change His will, as when, e.g., He becomes angry with those to whom He was gentle, it is rather they than He who are changed, and they find Him changed in so far as their experience of suffering at His hand is new, as the sun is changed to injured eyes, and becomes as it were fierce from being mild, and hurtful from being delightful, though in itself it remains the same as it was.  That also is called the will of God which He does in the hearts of those who obey His commandments; and of this the apostle says, “For it is God that worketh in you both to will.” 1604   As God’s “righteousness” is used not only of the righteousness wherewith He Himself is righteous, but also of that which He produces in the man whom He justifies, so also that is called His law, which, though given by God, is rather the law of men.  For certainly they were men to whom Jesus said, “It is written in your law,” 1605 though in another place we read, “The law of his God is in his heart.” 1606   According to this will which God works in men, He is said also to will what He Himself does not will, but causes His people to will; as He is said to know what He has caused those to know who were ignorant of it.  For when the apostle says, “But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God,” 1607 we cannot suppose that God there for the first time knew those who were foreknown by Him before the foundation of the world; but He is said to have known them then, because then He caused them to know.  But I remember that I discussed these modes of expression in the preceding books.  According to this will, then, by which we say that God wills what He causes to be willed by others, from whom the future is hidden, He wills many things which He does not perform.

Thus His saints, inspired by His holy will, desire many things which never happen.  They pray, e.g., for certain individuals—they pray in a pious and holy manner—but what they request He does not perform, though He Himself by His own Holy Spirit has wrought in them this will to pray.  And consequently, when the saints, in conformity with God’s mind, will and pray that all men be saved, we can use this mode of expression:  God wills and does not perform,—meaning that He who causes them to will these things Himself wills them.  But if we speak of that will of His which is eternal as His foreknowledge, certainly He has already done all things in heaven and on earth that He has willed,—not only past and present things, but even things still future.  But before the arrival of that time in which He has willed the occurrence of what He foreknew and arranged before all time, we say, It will happen when God wills.  But if we are ignorant not only of the time in which it is to be, but even whether it shall be at all, we say, It will happen if God wills,—not because God will then have a new will which He had not before, but because that event, which from eternity has been prepared in His unchangeable will, shall then come to pass.



Phil. 2.13.


John 8.17.


Ps. 37.31.


Gal. 4.9.

Next: Chapter 3

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