Some Thoughts on God’s Decree

Last week, I posted the relevant article from the 1689 London Baptist Confession about God’s decree. Don’t be frightened by the word “decree.” The nifty Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) provides the definition “foreordaining will.” It means God has determined what happens in this world.

Now, any Christian would probably agree with that statement in general. Its when we move beyond vague statements to brass tacks that we begin to have problems. Some of the reasons why Christians have developed creeds and confessions are because (1) they wanted a comprehensive document which could be used as a teaching tool for new believers, and (2) they wanted to lay out their systematic theology in a comprehensive and thorough way, in a binding document which could be used as a standard for orthodoxy.

  • By the way, if you want to understand what a particular group of Christians actually believe, look to that group’s creed or confession. Forget Pastor Google; he’s usually wrong. 

Thus, we have the 1689 London Baptist Confession, and it’s section on God’s decree. I will reproduce the excerpt from last week, with some brief comments. These comments are not necessarily my own views; I’m simply explaining what I understand the creed to mean:

  1. God hath decreed in himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably, all things, whatsoever comes to pass;[1] yet so as thereby is God neither the author of sin nor hath fellowship with any therein;[2] nor is violence offered to the will of the creature, nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established;[3] in which appears His wisdom in disposing all things, and power and faithfulness in accomplishing His decree.[4]

Remarks on Paragraph 1:

  • God decided what would happen before creation itself (“from all eternity”)
  • These decisions were free and voluntary (‘by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will”). There is nothing which can bind or constrain God from doing what He wants, in accordance with His holy character and attributes.
  • Once God decided what would happen in creation, that decision was set in stone and irrevocable (“freely and unchangeably”). This usually makes Christians wince, and it isn’t long before charges of “fatalism” are issued. The folks who wrote this confession of faith understood that. Behold what cometh next . . .
  • Yet, despite this, God did not create sin and does not partake of sin (“neither the author of sin nor hath fellowship with any therein”). He has nothing to do with sin. He is the exact opposite of sin.
  • More than that, this does not result in fatalism. Do you see this? Calvinists do not believe in fatalism (“nor is violence offered to the will of the creature”). Men and women are not compelled or forced to do evil. They do it because they want to. Period. Men and women have free will to sin, and they choose to do it. Every. Single Day. Free. Will. Do. You. See. This? How, then, does God’s decree come to pass? Behold . . .
  • God’s will is done through secondary causes (“nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established”). He often does not act directly. He acts through intemediaries upon intermediaries. Jesus was executed by the people who wanted to kill Him. Yet, He “was handed over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God,” (Acts 2:23).
  • By operating this way, in a way far above our own capacity to understand or fathom, God shows Himself to be far wiser than any of us, His creatures, could ever be (“in which appears His wisdom in disposing all things”). He also proves that His will actually will be done, and nothing can thwart it (“and power and faithfulness in accomplishing His decree”). If God be for us, who can be against us?

Notes:

[1] Isa. 46:10; Eph. 1:11; Heb. 6:17; Rom. 9:15,18

[2] James 1:13; 1 John 1:5

[3] Acts 4:27,28; John 19:11

[4] Num. 23:19; Eph. 1:3-5

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