Revealed and Secret Will (2013)

At the end of one year, and the beginning of a new year, I thought it might be helpful to remind you of some of the things we thought about one Sunday evening when we were studying question and answer 103 of our church’s Shorter Catechism. Question 103 is about the third request in the Lord’s Prayer: ‘Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’

When we studied this together, I explained that the Reformers distinguish between God’s revealed will and his secret will.

Firstly, there’s God’s revealed will. God has revealed certain things to us which he wants us to do. For instance, he’s revealed to us the Ten Commandments which summarise all the laws God wants his people to keep. He’s also revealed to us that the Ten Commandments can be summed up by the commands to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength and to love our neighbour as ourselves. In other words, God’s will for us is that we should love and serve him and our neighbour. That’s his revealed will: he’s revealed these things to us.

Secondly, there’s God’s secret will. There are certain things God has not revealed to any of us. For instance, he has not revealed to any of us what will happen to us during the coming year. We believe God knows what will happen this coming year because he’s planned it all. However, he’s kept it a secret from us and we won’t know what he has planned for us until it happens.

We have God’s revealed will: all his laws and commandments which he has made known to us in the Bible and which he wants us to do. And then there’s God’s secret will: all his plans for the future which he hasn’t revealed and which we can’t know until they happen.

Think about what we read in James 4:13–17. The Lord rebukes the man who boasts about what he intends do today and tomorrow and the next day. After all, none of us knows what will happen tomorrow. In fact, who knows whether we’ll still be alive tomorrow? So, instead of boasting about tomorrow, we should say: ‘If it’s the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ And the significant word in this sentence is the word ‘if’. If it’s the Lord’s will, we’ll do this or that; however we don’t know what the Lord’s will for us will be until it happens. Up to this point, James is referring to God’s secret will.

However, James then goes on in verse 17 to refer to God’s revealed will: ‘If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.’ None of us knows what God has planned for us tomorrow. However, no matter what happens to us tomorrow, or this coming year, God has made known to us the good we ought to do. In other words, he’s given us his commandments to keep.

What has this got to do with the third request in the Lord’s Prayer? By praying for God’s will to be done, we’re really asking for two things.

Firstly, we’re asking for God to help us to obey his revealed will. That is, we’re asking for him to help us to keep his commandments and laws. Secondly, we’re asking for God to help us to submit to his secret will. That is, we’re asking for him to help us to accept whatever he has planned for us.

Without his help, we’d be unable to obey his commandments; and without his help, we’d be unable to accept his will for our lives.

As we face another year, none of us knows what will happen to us: good things may happen to us; or we may have to face some difficult things. However, whatever happens, we need to ask God to help us to accept all that he has planned for us, believing that he cares for us and that his will for us is always good and perfect, even though we don’t always understand it. And, no matter what happens, we should ask him to help to us obey him in every circumstance.