Friday, October 10, 2008

Of God's Eternal Decree

Westminster Confession Chapter Three:
3. Of God's Eternal Decrees -
1. God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin; nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.

2. Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass, upon all supposed conditions; yet hath he not decreed anything because he foresaw it as future, as that which would come to pass, upon such conditions.
3. By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others fore-ordained to everlasting death.
4. These angels and men, thus predestinated and fore-ordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed; and their number is so certain and definite that it cannot be either increased or diminished.
5. Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to his eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of his will, hath chosen in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of his free grace and love alone, without any foresight of faith or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving him thereunto; and all to the praise of his glorious grace.
6. As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath he, by the eternal and most free purpose of his will, fore-ordained all the means thereunto. Wherefore they who are elected being fallen in Adam are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ by his Spirit working in due season; are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by his power through faith unto salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.
7. The rest of mankind, God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of his own will, whereby he extendeth or withholdeth mercy as he pleaseth, for the glory of his sovereign power over his creatures, to pass by, and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise of his glorious justice.
8. The doctrine of this high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care, that men attending to the will og God revealed in his Word, and yielding obedience thereunto, may, from the certainty of their effectual vocation, be assured of their eternal election. So shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God; and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation to all that sincerely obey the gospel.
(from Creeds of the Church, PC Study Bible formatted electronic database Copyright © 2003 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved.)

God in His all wise and most righteous purpose has designed everything to work according to the council of His will. A fitting text for the subject at hand is found in the book of Ephesians. Paul says it this way: "In Him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the council of His will (1:11).
There is an over arching ultimate decree of God which is foundational to the most basic theological study. People often speak of "the decrees of God" which is appropriate, but it must be understood that there is an ultimate singular decree in which everything else comes together, namely, "the council of His will."
Our all wise God is unchangeable. As the Westminster Confession says so wisely, "God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy council of His will, freely and unchageably ordain whatsoever comes to pass." His will has never changed and it never will. History is the unfolding of God's plan, indeed, it is "His" story.
The obvious question at this point becomes apparent, namely, is God the author of sin? How is it that God purposed the fall? What is the meaning of evil in the world? Why would God purpose such things? I believe it is important at this point to insert a few important points to keep in mind (I have no intention at this point to take up this topic of evil, only to address some basic points and assumptions that have helped me in my understanding of it):
  1. When addressing such deep things it is of the utmost importance to keep some hermeneutical principals in mind. We must follow the Bible where it leads us. Not where our feelings lead us or where our history may tend to pull us. The Bible is to be interpreted grammatically, historically, and theologically. One of the most important rules of interpretation is to allow the Bible to interpret itself. This is called the analogy of faith or the rule of faith. We must also be careful not to practice "eisegesis" (eis from the greek word which means "into") but rather we must practice "exegesis" (bringing out of the text only what is there to bear upon our understanding of it).
  2. It is important to bring forth the relatively few options an individaul has if they struggle with a God who would allow evil in the world. First, there is a god who cannot control evil, helpless as it were; sitting up in heaven watching everything happen and sucking his thumb wishing something good could come out of all of this. Second, there is a god who is equal with Satan. To put it the other way, Satan is equal to God. This is the view that says there is always a cosmic battle of equal powers in the world. Thirdly, there is the view, which I hold to be true. There is a sovereign God who rules from His throne. Who directs everything toward His own intended purpose. What you believe now about God will determine how you handle the evil that comes into your life. When calamity strikes, when your child dies, when your mother looses her kidneys or dies of cancer- what you believe now will either hold you together then or it won't. Which of the above three "theologies" will you take? I vote for the sovereignty of God!

So, is God the author of sin? In a short answer: Scripture teaches us that God is holy, just, good, and righteous. We know from the book of James that God does not sin and that He Himself does not tempt anyone to sin. Therefore God is not the author of sin.

Another massive question that arises from the concept of God's eternal decree and ultimate sovereignty is the issue of the will and the everyday occurrences of life. I would like to say in passing, God operates in accordance with out natures. We find in John chapter six, Jesus teaching about God "drawing" men to himself, "No one can come to me unless the father draws him." The idea here is that no one comes to God kicking and screaming. There is an inward compelling that takes place. We see in the example of Pharaoh that God hardened Pharaoh's heart and Pharaoh played a part in it too. God, in this instance operated by giving Pharaoh over to his own human nature. God is at work within our everyday experiences. There is a real world, real laws of nature, real existence, and real will in man. God operates within our existing realm but can also operate contrary to it. God uses certain means to bring about His intended purpose. Those means can be from within man (will, drawing etc.) or from without. In His sovereign purpose He does no harm to His image with man, it is not as though we were a bunch of cosmic puppets and God is operating the strings from heaven.

It is important to say here that what I have just said, in no way agrees with the concept of arminianism. For, the arminian view robs God of His glory, His sovereignty, and as a result strips Him of His power. Arminianism gives full autonomy to man and denies major portions of the Bible. The beauty of Calvinism is that is magnifies the grace of God. It makes much of the free grace and points us away from ourselves and toward the all glorious Lord of heaven and earth.

God in His wisdom and wise council has ordained whatsoever comes to pass. This means God predetermines. The outworking of this predeterminism is that some men and some angels are predestinated to life and some are predestinated to hell. That number is fixed and cannot be changed (predestined).

Whate're My God Ordains is Right (words: Samuel Rodigast)

Whate're my God ordains is right, Holy His will abideth. I will be still what'er He does and follow where He guideth. He is my God, though dark my road. He holds me that I shall not fall wherefore to Him I leave it all. Whate're my God ordains is right, He never will deceive me. He leads me by the proper path, I know He will not leave me. I take content, what He hath sent. His hand can turn my griefs away and patiently I wait His day. Whate're my God ordains is right, though now this cup in drinking. May bitter seem to my faint heart, I take it all unshrinking. My God is true, each morn anew. Sweet comfort yet shall fill my heart and pain and sorrow shall depart.

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