Q.10: What are the decrees of God?
A. The decrees of God are His eternal purpose according to the counsel of His will, whereby, for His own glory, He hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.1
1Ephesians 1:4, 11; Romans 9:22-23; Isaiah 46:10; Lamentations 3:37
Moving along in our discussion of what man ought to believe concerning God, let us pivot a bit from what God is to what God does. Now, these two aspects of God should not be divorced from one another. Obviously, what God is will determine what God does. When we say that God is good, after all, we are claiming that God is the ultimate standard of all that is good. In order to properly define what good is requires that we do so in reference to what God is. It also requires that we do so in reference to what God does.
The first step in examining what God does is to look to His eternal decrees. In the decrees of God, we find the Source and Purpose for all that occurs, whether in the secret counsels of God or in the created order, from eternity to eternity. God Himself is the Source of everything that occurs. He is also the Purpose. The Westminster Assembly put it this way:
“The decrees of God are his eternal purpose according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass,” (The Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q.7).
William Collins, when penning The Baptist Catechism, changed nothing of substance in this answer. Why? This answer serves as one of the shortest, most succinct summaries of the doctrine of God’s sovereignty ever committed to the page. In it, we find that all that comes to pass is a result of God’s eternal purpose, according to the counsel of His will, and foreordained for the purpose of His own glory.
All that occurs, has occurred, or will occur is determined by the eternal will of God, comes from God, is guided and held together by God, and will ultimately culminate in His receiving all glory, honor, and power. In other words, the Source and Purpose of all things is God, God, God! “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36; NASB).
If you really stop to think about it, Romans 11:36, from a worldly perspective, is a somewhat counter-intuitive way to end the discussion Paul began way back in Romans 9. In Romans 9-11, Paul explains how the monergistic gospel he has been describing since chapter 1 is actually good news, since many of his kinsmen are not believing. He begins Romans 9 with these words:
“1I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, 2that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. 3For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, 4who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, 5whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.,” (Rom. 9:1-5; NASB).
Many in Israel would not repent. As a result, they were broken off, as branches are broken off from a tree. Paul refers to this breaking off as a partial hardening. “For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in,” (Rom. 11:25; NASB). How were many of Paul’s kinsmen according to the flesh coming to be hardened? They were hardened according to the sovereign will of God, according to Romans 9. God demonstrates His mercy upon whom He wills, and He hardens whom He wills (9:14-18).
Paul knew this was a hard pill for his readers to swallow. It was a hard pill for him to swallow. However, it was the truth, and Christians are those who ultimately must come to the place where they affirm with Paul: “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36; NASB).
Notice how, in the answer given in the catechism, God’s purpose is eternal. As we have already mentioned, God is immutable; He does not change. God has never changed His mind on a matter. What He decreed in eternity past remains unchanged to this day. Thus, the apostle Paul writes: “just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him,” (Eph. 1:4a; NASB). If God can change His mind, what would it matter who He chose to be holy and blameless before the foundation of the world? He could just as easily choose differently tomorrow, if indeed He is unstable in His decrees.
However, we know that He is not unstable. Whatsoever He has decreed will surely come to pass. It is on this truth that our hope in an eternal inheritance rests, for Paul also writes: “also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will,” (Ephesians 1:11; NASB). But, if God’s will is mutable, might our inheritance be given to another? Why should we hold to it with any surety? On the contrary, Louis Berkhof writes of God:
“He is not deficient in knowledge, veracity, or power. Therefore, He need not change His decree because of a mistake of ignorance, nor because of inability to carry it out. And He will not change it, because He is the immutable God and because He sis faithful and true,” (Berkhof, Systematic Theology. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids. 1941, pg. 105).
God’s sovereignty and immutability in His decrees, then, are a great comfort to us. They ensure for us all of the great promises of God. Our comfort is not the ultimate purpose of the doctrine, though. How foolish, arbitrary, overly-romantic, and trite it would be if God had determined to mold His determinative faculties around something as ultimately insignificant as human feelings. No. God’s created order does not revolve around us: our wills, our feelings, our significance, our dignity, and our glory. Rather, it is all for His glory!
It is ultimately God’s glory that hinges on His purposes being established, not ours. It is ultimately His divine, eternal reputation that is at stake. Thus, He is the One whose “good pleasure” is paramount:
“Declaring the end from the beginning,
And from ancient times things which have not been done,
Saying, ‘My purpose will be established,
And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’,” (Isaiah 46:10; NASB).
We object that God’s good pleasure must make sense to us. We must be able to wrap our finite, fickle minds around His sovereign, eternal decrees, or He is a monster! “19You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?’ 20On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this,’ will it?” (Rom. 9:19-20; NASB). Just as the clay does not have a right to demand to know the secret counsels of the potter, neither do we have the right to demand from God His secret decrees.
We do not get to determine the definition of good, and then demand that God fit into that mold. Rather, we determine what is good by a proper examination of God. Hence the age old problem of questioning authority. In the military, it is a soldier’s duty to disobey unlawful orders, because the law is above command in rank. In theology, we never have right disobey an order of God, because He is the law.
We have no right to question the goodness or the justice of God, because He is the standard of goodness and justice. To lay a charge against Him is to speak out of sheer ignorance. Though one may observe several instances where Lord Tennyson’s often quoted The Charge of the Light Brigade is flawed in relation to subordination in the military, it holds true nonetheless in Christian theology.
“Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.”