To Put in Order
by Josiah Audette
Q. 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.
I could not surmise a better topic for a new years sermon than on the decrees of God. To give the Christian confidence in the new year and appreciation for the one that is past. It is a good thing for the Christian to acknowledge that he or she is loved of God before the year begins, even before the very foundation of the world. For assurance that God’s goodness will be with them yet another year. With confidence to proceed knowing God is the pilot of their future. Acknowledging that if God has appointed storms to come, He will be there with them that they fail not. For the Christian to confess that length of days does not profit them, except if they are passed in the presence and service of God. Christian receiving grace and God’s Spirit to follow His will through each new moment by moment of the year. To embark into the unknown waters of this 2014 with God as their haven, the Son at the helm, and the Spirit filling the sails. Today’s lecture has also concerned itself as a doctrine which has been historically central to the debate of the Reformed Doctrine of Predestination. One’s answer to this question will allow the determination of their acceptance for the sovereignty of God, the goodness of God, the reality of sin and evil, and ultimately the purpose of God. This doctrine has been and continues to be attacked by its Palagean and neo-arminian adversaries who deny, limit, or diminish to some degree the relationship of God’s sovereignty to human affairs. As Dr. Lorraine Boettner wrote, “The question which faces us then, is, Has God from all eternity foreordained all things which come to pass? If so, what evidence do we have to that effect, and how is the fact consisted with the free agency of rational creatures and with His own perfections?” This is a question which we at Grace Haven, are well acquainted with. We must remember that how we view the nature of God will define how we answer this question. There is a reason why we have already covered the doctrine of the purpose of man, the nature of God, and the existence of the Trinity. Because after reviewing what we have learned of God, can we rightly ask if the infinite, eternal, and unchangeable Godhead is capable of delaying or limiting His decrees and still be consistent with His nature?It would be easy to assume that God only makes decrees as a response to an issue which is already present if one’s view of God was not much different than that of a rational human. But from what we have learned in the past lectures we know that God existed in eternity past, that no circumstance can change his actions or his mind, and that He is infinitely wise and powerful. We may only safely and rightly conclude that such a being is incapable of delaying, diminishing, or limiting His eternal existence of over all things, His knowledge of all things and His power over every thing. This catechism question is not so much become a doctrinal question as it has become a doctrinal battle in our day and age within Church history. Not a battle over who is right and who is wrong, nor a battle of doctrinal confession, not a battle of theological creeds, nor a battle of who is a so-and-so and who is a such-and-such. Such differences are merely used as a distraction from the central conflict. The culminating doctrinal battle is over who God is and who man is. Thus I repeat Dr. Boettner’s profound statement. “The question which faces us then, is, Has God from all eternity foreordained all things which come to pass? If so, what evidence do we have to that effect, and how is the fact consistent with the free agency of rational creatures and with His own perfections?”
THE DECREES OF GOD
Dr. Grudem simply defined a decree as “A word of God that causes something to happen.” The most forceful portrait of this in Scripture is Isaiah 46:8-11, “Remember this, and shew yourselves men: bring it again to mind, O ye transgressors. Remember the former things of old: for I am God , and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient time the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure. Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it.” Withal, God’s decrees are His plans, orders, and purposes for His creation. From this singular passage we may rightly determine the inception of God’s decrees being from eternity past. “Declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient time the things that are not yet done.” This assures us that God does not decree in a fashion which is just but an abrupt response to a current pressing issue, such as we humans make decisions. Rather, prior from the end, prior from the things that are not yet done God had ordained the events. Ordain, foreordain, predestine are all terms which in their simplest form mean to put in order. When we say that God has ordained or foreordained whatsoever comes to pass we are plainly saying that God has put everything in order before it even comes together. To illustrate I will use my favourite game, speed scrabble. In this game one takes several letter pieces at random puts them in order and then plays them together to form a word. The major deficiency in this illustration is the fact that God, unlike me, is not contained to using only a few, randomly selected pieces to make meaning of them. Rather, God, decrees the pieces into existence, decrees them into order, and decrees them into play. An asset that would be unbeatable if endowed upon any mortal.
HIS ETERNAL PURPOSE
As stated previously, God’s decrees are eternal. In simplest terms, God puts events in order before He even created them. As such God’s decrees are eternal, they are not emergency reactions. God’s decrees are unchangeable, they are not responses to changing conditions. God’s decrees are eternal because He is eternal. Can an eternal God make momentary plans? God’s decrees are unchangeable because He is unchangeable. Can God make an exit strategy? As one can easily perceive, what we believe about God will determine our answer to this question. Nothing, in God changes. Not his thoughts, not His plans, not His will, not His actions. God does not condition His decrees in response to the changes of man. Rather, all human changes are in harmony with and derived from the decrees of God. Stated in an earlier lecture, change is a limitation of finite humanity. Naturally, God is free from limitations. In this respect, a more pertinent question than human freedom is God’s freedom. God’s decrees are free. Free from limitation, free from change, free from time, free from influence outside Himself, free from causes, free from conditions, and free from control. Summarily, God’s decrees are absolutely, purely unconditional and independent of any influences or causes outside His being. While said, this does not imply that the decrees of God are free from any obligation to be consistent with His character, rather His character determines the content of His decrees.
COUNSEL OF HIS WILL
Morecraft concisely wrote, “Wisdom in human beings consists in deep insight into the true nature of things and the skill to apply that insight practically and correctly.” From this wisdom, we as human sons of God and brothers of Christ are to formulate our decisions. But the wisdom which God exercises in His decrees is far different and superior to ours. Morecract continued, “In God, wisdom is His knowledge and power working together to foreordain everything to happen in such a way that would bring Him the most glory and His people the most benefit.” Here we realize that God utilizes His infinite power with His infinite knowledge to know all the events He will create, to put them in order, and then to go about creating them. So again, God’s decrees are infinitely wise because God is infinitely wise. Can God make a ineffective plan? God’s decrees are infinitely powerful because He is infinitely powerful. Can God make a resistible plan? Note that both God’s wisdom and His power act united in His decrees, for a god having one without the other is a cripple. With wisdom God can put all things in order, but without power His wisdom is unachievable. With power God can enforce and create, yet without wisdom His power is misguided. By “Counsel” the catechism implies a prudent inner-consultation within the Persons of the Godhead. Therefore, the decrees of God are the product of the united wisdom of the Godhead. Dr. Boettner made an accurate observation when he wrote, “It is unthinkable that a God of infinite wisdom and power would create a world without a definite plan for that world. And because God is thus infinite, His plan must extend to every detail of the world’s existence. If we could see the world in all its relations, past, present, and future, we would see that it is following a predetermined course with exact precision.” Consider but for a moment the opposite reality with A.J. Gordon. “A universe without decrees would be as irrational and appalling as would be an express train driving on in the darkness without headlight or engineer, and with no certainty that the next moment it might not plunge into the abyss.”
FOR HIS OWN GLORY
Clive Staple L. otherwise known as C.S. Lewis wrote the following, “To be sovereign of the universe is no great matter to God… God who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that He may love and perfect them.” It is perpetually asked why God does what He does. Alternatively, why does God make decrees? Pasalm 135:6 provides the answer. “Whatsoever the Lord pleased, that did he in heaven, and in earth, in the seas, and all deep places.” To comprehend some true notion of why God decrees we must first know why He does not Decree. God does not decree because He is under the constraint of an outside force. God does not decree out of a need for self-fulfillment. God does not even decree because it makes him happy. Rather, God decrees because He is happy. This striking observation was given to me by John Piper who wrote the following, “God is and always has been an exuberantly happy God. Thus God is not constrained by any inner deficiency or unhappiness to do anything he does not want to do. If God were unhappy, if he were in some way deficient, then he might indeed be constrained from outside in some way to do what he does not want to do, in order to make up his deficiency and finally to be happy. This is what distinguishes us from God.” With each and every decree of God he acts as Piper states, “of the overflow of the joy of his boundless self-sufficiency.” Therefore all the decrees of God are for his own glory, all the decrees of God are both for and from his own joy and pleasure. Any attack brought upon, divisive question raised, or doubt fostered on the decrees of God is therefor an attack on His glory, joy, and happiness. God cannot be restrained, questioned, or doubted from decreeing what he delights to do and what he does is from His infinite passion to express his abundance of delight. Again we realize this amazing concept from Pasalm 135:6 “Whatsoever the Lord pleased, that did he in heaven, and in earth, in the seas, and all deep places.”
(As a side note, recently I have been wondering whether or not God is an introvert or an extrovert. It initially appeared to me that God would be a strong introvert providing His existence perfectly alone in eternity past. Then I considered His creation of the world, with its billions of people and considered the possibility of His extroversion. Similarly, I have pondered the same for Jesus as a human. I often see him going far away by himself, even refusing his disciples to join him and entertain the notion of him being a strong introvert. But then I see him mixing with extensively large crowds for prolonged periods of time and question if he was an introvert. Yet after considering how God does all things out of His self-sufficiency I have determined that God and Jesus were neither introverts nor extroverts. Why? Because introverts and extroverts are who they are out of need. Introverts have the need to be alone to build energy, focus, and mental stability. Extroverts need to be with others to similarly build energy, emotion, and health. Neither God nor Jesus had either need. Because in every state, in any condition, under any circumstance they were perfectly and sustainably self-sufficient. God did not create the world out of an extroverted need. Jesus did not leave others out of an introverted desire. The question of God’s introversion or extroversion is nonsensical to the nature of God.)
WHATSOEVER COMES TO PASS
God’s decrees encompass both the means and the end, the cause and the effect, the beginning and the end with all their multitude emanations, consequences, causes, content and effects. To entertain the notion that God does not trouble himself with “the little things.” is to put a size on God. If there ever existed something “too small” for God then there would also very possibly exist something “too big” for God. The reality is nothing can be remotely compared or related in size, proportion, or importance with God. Both great and small things to us are but equal to God. His control of the greatest, relative to us, must include the control of the least, for the great things are but only made up of the little. There is an excellent proverb from history that illustrates this attention to detail for us.
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
We may be assured that God keeps oversight and decrees over both the nail and the kingdom. The Arminian contests that God has but a general plan, the Pelagian denies God has any plan at all, but the Calvinist says that God has a special and specific plan which embraces all events throughout the ages. Benjamin Breckinridge W., otherwise known as B.B. Warfield contemplated the following, “Predestination is broad enough to embrace the whole universe of things, and minute enough to concern itself with the smallest details, and actualizing itself with inevitable certainty in every event that comes to pass.” Once again, with God it is either all or nothing. You cannot put a limit on sovereignty. Until a person learns that God is sovereing, he never really knows God at all. To say that God is sovereign is to say that God is God. Morecraft defined God’s sovereignty thus, “God is the most high King of heaven and earth, who rules and controls His universe for His own glory just as He pleases, having foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.”
(The clearest illustration here I can conjecture is once again the hour glass. Where the upper portion of the glass represents the future which flows down through the middle point of the glass which represents the ever fulfilling present which moves into the building past. Here we can imagine that every grain of sand is specially decreed, or put in order, by God. That each sand representing any particular event in the course of space-time it is perfectly placed in sequential order in the future, that it precisely flows through the present, lands with perfect accuracy in the past, and makes calculated and flawless effects to those it touches and changes. With this picture of total calculation and precision it would be ludicrous to dare that God has not placed and moved every sand as it should, or determined each pieces cause and effect.)
IS GOD THE AUTHOR OF EVIL?
There are two questions reasonably raised from the doctrine of predestination and God’s decrees. The fist is an arminian logic which states if a total omniscience would necessarily mean that everything we will ever choose in the present and future will have already been laid out in God’s divine order then the belief that we have truly significant choices to make would seem to be mistaken. Alternitavely, with God’s omniscience, we are all rendered as mere robots incapable of making any free and therefore meaningful, significant choices. To this first inquiry Oliver Cromnwell’s chaplain, Stephen Charnock, gives a courageous response to these neo-arminians with the following. “But what if the foreknowledge of God, and the liberty of the will, cannot be fully reconciled by man? Shall we therefore deny a perfection in God to support a liberty in ourselves? Shall we rather fasten ignorance upon God, and accuse him of blindness, to maintain our liberty?” In response to the dilemma posed by the arminians Charnock bodily stated, “So what? So what if you think you are a robot under God’s infinite power. Would you really rather criminalize God in order to justify yourself?” Calvin also gave a vitriolic attack on such an accusation, “It is insufferable wickedness to think that we, who can hardly crawl on the earth, should take nothing as true except what submits itself to investigation by our eyes… But because of the dense darkness of the human mind by which all acknowledge is rendered thin and perishable, Scripture builds for us a higher watchtower for which to observe God overruling all the works of men so as to direct them to the end appointed by Him.” Both Calvin and Charnock end the debate by revealing the stupidity of the question in much the same way as Isaiah and Paul did with the illustration of the clay arguing with the moulder. As for the second question raised, since God has put everything in place does it also make him the author of the sins of the world? We know from Scripture that God cannot be the author of Sin, James 1:17. Furthermore we know that God’s own law forbids all sin. And thirdly we know by the nature of sin itself that it forbids God’s authoring. Sin, by definition and consequence, must be man’s own free activity, or else man would not be responsible and guilty. R.J. Rushdoony gave the best explanation I have come accross. “Evil is not a thing. and hence not a creature. It is a relationship, or better, a ruptured and broken relationship. God created heaven and earth, and all things therein, but sin is not properly a part of that creation, but rather a disruption of relationships between Creator and man, and between man and his fellow men…. In this sense that God’s eternal decree is the source of all creation, events, thoughts, and possibilities, the origin of sin as a possibility and a fact is in God’s creative purpose. With respect to the responsibility for sin, God is not its author. Because sin is a revolt against God and His law, sin it totally alien and impossible concept to ascribe to God. The question thus (Is God the author of sin?) is not an admissible one.”
We have reviewed that God has decreed, or put in order, all events before they were even created and has done so out of the abundance of his joy in himself and for the benefit of his people. Our infinite God has put an infinite number of events in order. Our unchanging God has put them all in order with one unfaltering purpose. Our infinitely wise God has put them in order with perfect effectiveness. Our infinitely powerful God has created and enforced all the events he has put in order. Our perfectly happy God has put all events in order to glorify himself. No event was unplanned, no event is without meaning, and no event is without effectiveness. The Christian can only have confidence in the present moment and faith in the future moments of 2014 by the full acknowledgement and adoration of the decrees of God.