“God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass.” “The Bible says that all Scripture is profitable for doctrine, not just some. And the Reformers did not draw back from the difficult passages on predestination, foreordination, and God’s eternal decrees. Really, these passages are not difficult to understand, though many people find them difficult to believe. But if they are God’s words, then we should study, believe, and preach them.”1 Some of these passages are 9:15, 18; 11:33; Eph. 1:9, 11; Heb. 6:17. “By the decree of God is meant his purpose or determination with respect to future things; or, more fully, his determinate counsel, whereby, from all eternity, he fore-ordained whatever he should do, or would permit to be done, in time.”2
“That God must have decreed all future things, is a conclusion which necessarily flows from his foreknowledge, independence, and immutability. If God be an independent being, all creatures must have an entire dependence upon him; but this dependence proves undeniability that all their acts must be regulated by his sovereign will. If God be of one mind, which none can change, he must have unalterably fixed everything in his purpose which he effects in his providence.”3 “The decrees of God are ‘free’. He was not impelled to decree from any exigence of the divine nature; this would be to deny his self-sufficiency. Neither was he under any external constraint; this would be destructive of his independence. His decrees, therefore, must be the sovereign and free act of his will. By this is not meant to insinuate that they are arbitrary decisions; but merely that, in making his decrees, he was under no control, and acted according to his own sovereignty.”4
“He needs not to deliberate, or take counsel with others, but all his decrees are the result of unerring wisdom.”5 His freedom and wisdom is however not separate from any of his other attributes, including his holiness. God is ‘set apart’ in his thoughts and actions, both in his being and his moral perfection. His counsel, furthermore is trinitarian, that to which all three persons of the triune God are in agreement. “The decrees of God are ‘absolute’ and ‘unconditional’. He has not decreed anything, because he foresaw it as future; and the execution of his decrees is not suspended upon any condition which may or may not be performed.”6 “It has been objected to the doctrine respecting the divine decrees taught in our Confession, that it represents God as the author of sin. But the Confession expressly guards against this inference by declaring that God has so ordained whatsoever comes to pass as that he is not the author of sin.
The decree of God is either effective or permissive. His effective decree respects all the good that comes to pass; his permissive decree respects the evil that is in sinful actions. We must also distinguish betwixt an action ‘purely’ as such, and the sinfulness of the action. The decree of God is effective with respect to the action abstractly considered; it is permissive with respect to the sinfulness of the action as a moral evil.”7 “The same infinitely perfect and self-consistent decree ordains the moral law which forbids and punishes all sin, and at the same time permits its occurrence, limiting and determining the precise channel to which it shall be confined, the precise end to which it shall be directed, and overruling its consequences for good: “But as for you, you thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.” Gen. 50:20.”8 See also Gen. 37:28; 45:7-8; Is. 10:5; Js. 1:13, 17; I Jn. 1:5.
“This does not mean that violence was done to the will of the creatures (II Sam. 17:14). But it must be noted that God established psychological processes just as truly as he established physical processes. This ties in with the next phrase, “nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.” God has established such processes for the purpose of accomplishing his will. He does not arrange things or control history apart from secondary causes. God does not decree the end apart from the means. He decrees that the end shall be accomplished by means of the means. The importance of section ii becomes much clearer when later the idea of grace alone is examined.”9 See also Pr. 16:33; Mt. 17:12; Jn. 19:11; Acts 2:23; 4:27-28.
“The free actions of men are also predestined by God. Please note: these acts are both ‘free’ and ‘predestined’. That is, those who commit these acts do so because they want to. And yet those acts which they do are predestined by God so that Scripture says they ‘must’ happen. Christ said, “it must needs be that offenses come: but woe to that man by whom the offense comes.” This statement recognizes two things: (1) the certainty of the occurrence of a future event, and (2) that those who will perform the act will do so freely and therefore with guilt. As God predetermines evil actions which are freely performed, so he predetermines good actions which are also freely performed. Christians repent, believe and seek to do the will of God because they want to. But in this case “it is God which works in [them] to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). There is, in this case, an internal operation of God’s Spirit, which is wholly absent from the wicked. But this still does not mean that the good (converted) any more than the wicked (unconverted) are not free in doing what God has predestined that they shall do.
Some people use “freedom in another sense, however, which is false in the extreme. They mean, by the “freedom” of man, that man has the ‘power’ to do good or evil at any moment of time. To say that a man is ‘able’ to do good or evil, is very different from saying that a man is ‘at liberty’ to do what he desires. We believe that man has liberty but not ability to do what is right. For the truth is that man, while free from coercion from the “outside” is ‘not free from the control of his own nature’. He who is evil by nature must of necessity do evil (just as a corrupt tree must of necessity produce corrupt fruit, Mt. 7:17-19). Just as we may say that God is good and therefore cannot do evil, so we may say that man (by nature) is evil and cannot (of himself) do good.”10
“All God’s works of creation and providence constitute one system. No event is isolated, either in the physical or moral world, either in heaven or on earth. All of God’s supernatural revelations and every advance of human science conspire to make this truth conspicuously luminous. Hence the original intention which determines one event must also determine every other event related to it, as cause, condition, or consequent, direct and indirect, immediate and remote. Hence, the plan which determines even the minutest element comprehended in the system of which those ends are parts. The free actions of free agents constitute an eminently important and effective element in the system of things. If the plan of God did not determine events of this class, he could make nothing certain, and his government of the world would be made contingent and dependent, and all his purposes fallible and mutable.”11
Supplementary scripture: I Kgs. 22:1-40; Ps. 33:11; Pr. 16:33; 19:21; 21:1; Is. 10:5; Mt. 10:29-30; Acts 15:18; Rom. 8:29; Eph. 1:4ff.; 2:8-10; 3:11; Phil. 2:13 II Th. 2:13.
1. Clark, (36-37)
2. Shaw, (81)
3. Ibid., (82 Cf. Is. 23:11-12; Mt. 11:21-23; Acts 15:18)
4. Ibid., (83 Cf. Rom. 9:11-18)
5. Ibid., (83)
6. Ibid., (84)
7. Ibid., (85)
8. Hodge, (65)
9. Clark, (38 Cf. ‘Religion, Reason, and Revelation’ Ch. 5)
10. Williamson, (30-31)
11. Hodge, (64)