Discovering God's Will
Author: Sinclair B. Ferguson
Publisher: Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1982
This book exudes reformed theology, so you get Scripture, Scripture, Scripture, and a little Westminster's Confession thrown in. Actually, the title is surprising since Ferguson does not think the will of God is hidden. So "discovering" does not mean what you would expect in most books on God's will.
Most readers who come at this book from the framework of the traditional view will think the author never answers the question of how to discover God's will. He raises hopes by using the traditional terms of "perfect will (p. 25)," and "centre of God's will" (p. 85). But his meaning is different from what some readers expect. He assumes that God desires one thing in each decision, but he does not define this or show it from Scripture. Ferguson argues that when the Scriptures are correctly applied to individual situations, the end result is living in God's will.
Ferguson says the will of God is found by (1) direct commands of Scripture, (2) principles of Scripture, and (3) illustrations in Scripture. "We find that there are choices to make; we find that now we have to apply God's word to our situation. The chief need we have, therefore, is that of increased familiarity with and sensitivity to the wisdom of his word" (p. 31). He says, "We need supernatural help...to understand and apply our only rule of life, our only source of the knowledge of God and his will-the Holy Scriptures" (p. 32). He thinks that even subconscious thoughts show the work of the application of Scripture (p. 33).
Thus, he encourages listing the "pros and cons of the situation" (p. 36). He discusses the "subjective element in coming to know God's will" (p. 39). Here he means a sensitive, humble, submissive heart to receive the Scriptures and make personal application. From Ephesians (5:5ff) he concludes, "To live in the will of God is to walk in love, to walk in light and to walk in wisdom" (p. 54). This is clearly equivalent to what I have called the moral will of God.
He asks, "What is the will of God in this particular, unique situation in which I find myself?" (p. 64). He turns again to Scriptural principle and asks a series of questions: (1) Is it lawful? (2) Is it beneficial (that is, edifying) to me? (3) Is it enslaving? (4) Is it consistent with Christ's Lordship? (5) Is it helpful to others? And (6) is it consistent with biblical example? (pp. 64-74).
All of these questions fall either under the moral will of God or the moral imperative of being wise. At the end of his list, he concludes, "Here again we are driven back to our great principle: we discover the will of God by a sensitive application of Scripture to our own lives" (p. 72).
I can almost hear the traditional view reader saying, "Yes of course, but you must go further and answer the question of finding God's perfect will." For Ferguson, God's Word is His perfect will. Ferguson never does answer the question, "What do I do if I have applied Scripture to my personal situation and I still have more than one good option?" He holds the wisdom view, but has not taken it to its natural conclusion. His answer seems to be "wait on the Lord" and you will eventually find the one right choice.
This book propounds the wisdom view in slightly defective form. It won't cause a stir because it does not clearly distinguish itself from the traditional view. Ferguson uses the approach of the older writers before the traditional view made its entry into the evangelical mainstream in the late 1800s. Unless the reader realizes that the book is not propagating the traditional view, he or she will think, "Sure, the Bible contains the will of God, but I'm looking for the perfect individual will. I guess I'll have to find another book that deals with that." Nothing could be more practical that application of the Scripture to every situation, but many readers may not realize that this is the message of his book.