The decrees of God refer to His purpose or determination with respect to all that shall come to pass.

The Concept of God's Decree in Scripture

The word "decree" is found in Psalm 2:7, etc. In Ephesians 3:11 we read of His "eternal purpose." In Acts 2:23 of His "determinate counsel and foreknowledge." In Ephesians 1:9 of the mystery of His "will." In Romans 8:29 that He also did predestinate. In Ephesians 1:9 of His "good pleasure." God’s decrees are called His "counsel" to signify they are consummately wise. They are called God’s "will" to show He was under no control, but acted according to His own pleasure. When a man’s will is the rule of his conduct, it is usually capricious and unreasonable; but wisdom is always associated with "will" in the Divine proceedings, and accordingly, God’s decrees are said to be "the counsel of His own will" (Eph. 1:11).

The Divine Decree is Singular

Louis Berkhof wrote,^[1]^

width="20" valign="top" style="color:#B2B7F2;font-size:{{#switch:20px 10px=20px 30px=60px 40px=80px 50px=100px 60px=120px “ Though we often speak of the decrees of God in the plural, yet in its own nature the divine decree is but a single act of God. This is already suggested by the fact that the Bible speaks of it as a prothesis, a purpose or counsel. It follows also from the very nature of God. His knowledge is all immediate and simultaneous rather than successive like ours, and His comprehension of it is always complete. And the decree that is founded on it is also a single, all-comprehensive, and simultaneous act. As an eternal and immutable decree it could not be otherwise. There is, therefore, no series of decrees in God, but simply one comprehensive plan, embracing all that comes to pass. Our finite comprehension, however, constrains us to make distinctions, and this accounts for the fact that we often speak of the decrees of God in the plural. This manner of speaking is perfectly legitimate, provided we do not lose sight of the unity of the divine decree, and of the inseparable connection of the various decrees as we conceive of them. width="20" valign="bottom" style="color:#B2B7F2;font-size:{{#switch:20px 10px=20px 30px=60px 40px=80px 50px=100px 60px=120px ” {{#if:| Template:! colspan="3" style="padding-top: 10px" Template:! {{#if:| —{{{4}}}{{#if:|, {{{5}}}}}

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The decree of God is His purpose or determination with respect to future things. We have used the singular number as Scripture does (Rom 8:28, Eph 3:11), because there was only one act of His infinite mind about future things. But we speak as if there had been many, because our minds are only capable of thinking of successive revolutions, as thoughts and occasions arise, or in reference to the various objects of His decree, which being many seem to us to require a distinct purpose for each one. But an infinite understanding does not proceed by steps, from one stage to another: "Known unto God are all His works, from the beginning of the world" (Acts 15:18).

God's Decrees Concern Everything

The decrees of God relate to all future things without exception: whatever is done in time, was foreordained before time began. God’s purpose was concerned with everything, whether great or small, whether good or evil, although with reference to the latter we must be careful to state that while God is the Orderer and Controller of sin, He is not the Author of it in the same way that He is the Author of good. Sin could not proceed from a holy God by positive and direct creation, but only by decretive permission and negative action. God’s decree is as comprehensive as His government, extending to all creatures and all events. It was concerned about our life and death; about our state in time, and our state in eternity. As God works all things after the counsel of His own will, we learn from His works what His counsel is (was), as we judge of an architect’s plan by inspecting the building which was erected under his directions.

God's Decrees Are Comprehensive

God did not merely decree to make man, place him upon the earth, and then leave him to his own uncontrolled guidance; instead, He fixed all the circumstances in the lot of individuals, and all the particulars which will comprise the history of the human race from its commencement to its close. He did not merely decree that general laws should be established for the government of the world, but He settled the application of those laws to all particular cases. Our days are numbered, and so are the hairs of our heads. We may learn what is the extent of the Divine decrees from the dispensations of providence, in which they are executed. The care of Providence reaches to the most insignificant creatures, and the most minute events—the death of a sparrow, and the fall of a hair.

  • The Scriptures assert this of the whole system in general embraced in the divine decrees. Dan. 4:34, 35; Acts 17:26; Eph 1:11.
  • They affirm the same of fortuitous events. Prov. 16:33; Matt. 10:29, 30.
  • Also of the free actions of men. Eph. 2:10, 11; Phil. 2:13.
  • Even the wicked actions of men. Acts 2:23; 4:27, 28; 13:29; 1 Pet. 2:8; Jude 4; Rev. 17:17. As to the history of Joseph, compare Gen. 37:28, with Gen. 45:7, 8, and Gen. 50:20. See also Ps. 17:13, 14; Isa. 10:5, 15.

God's decrees are eternal

Acts 15:18; Eph. 1:4; 3:11; 1 Pet. 1:20; 2 Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim. 1:9; 1 Cor. 2:7.

To suppose any of them to be made in time, is to suppose that some new occasion has occurred, some unforeseen event or combination of circumstances has arisen, which has induced the Most High to form a new resolution. This would argue that the knowledge of the deity is limited, an that He is growing wiser in the progress of time—which would be horrible blasphemy. No man who believes that the Divine understanding is infinite, comprehending the past, the present, and the future, will ever assent to the erroneous doctrine of temporal decrees. God is not ignorant of future events which will be executed by human volitions; He has foretold them in innumerable instances, and prophecy is but the manifestation of His eternal prescience. Scripture affirms that believers were chosen in Christ before the world began (Eph. 1:4), yea, that grace was "given" to them then (2 Tim. 1:9).

They are wise

Wisdom is shown in the selection of the best possible ends and of the fittest means of accomplishing them. That this character belongs to the decrees of God is evident from what we know of them. They are disclosed to us by their execution, and every proof of wisdom in the works of God is a proof of the wisdom of the plan, in conformity to which they are performed. As the Psalmist declared, "O Lord, how manifold are Thy works! in wisdom hast Thou made them all" (Ps. 104:24). It is indeed but a very small part of them which falls under our observation, yet, we ought to proceed here as we do in other cases, and judge of the whole by the specimen, of what is unknown, by what is known. He who perceives the workings of admirable skill in the parts of a machine which he has an opportunity to examine, is naturally led to believe that the other parts are equally admirable. In like manner should we satisfy our minds as to God’s works when doubts obtrude themselves upon us, and repel the objections which may be suggested by something which we cannot reconcile to our notions of what is good and wise. When we reach the bounds of the finite and gaze toward the mysterious realm of the infinite, let us exclaim. "O the depth of the riches! both of the wisdom and knowledge of God" (Rom. 11:33).

They are Free

"Who hath directed the Spirit of the Lord, or being His counselor hath taught Him? With whom took He counsel, and who instructed Him, and taught Him in the path of judgment, and taught Him knowledge, and showed to Him the way of understanding?" (Isa. 40:13,14). God was alone when He made His decrees, and His determinations were influenced by no external cause. He was free to decree or not to decree, and to decree one thing and not another. This liberty we must ascribe to Him who is supreme, independent, and sovereign in all His doings.

They are Sovereign

Isa. 40:13, 14; Dan. 4:35; Matt. 11:25, 26; Rom. 9:11, 15-18; Eph. 1:5, 11.

They are absolute and unconditional

The execution of them is not suspended upon any condition which may, or may not be, performed. In every instance where God has decreed an end, He has also decreed every means to that end. The One who decreed the salvation of His elect also decreed to work faith in them (2 Thess. 2:13). "My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure" (Isa. 46:10): but that could not be, if His counsel depended upon a condition which might not be performed. But God "worketh all things after the counsel of His own will" (Eph. 1:11).

Ps. 33:11; Prov. 19:21; Isa. 14:24, 27 ; 46:10; Rom. 9:11; Isa. 46:9.

They include the means

Eph. 1:4; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Pet. 1:2.

They preserve human responsibility

Scripture plainly teaches that man is a responsible creature and answerable for his actions. And if our thoughts are formed from God’s Word the maintenance of the one will not lead to the denial of the other. That there is a real difficulty in defining where the one ends and the other begins, is freely granted. This is ever the case where there is a conjunction of the Divine and the human. Real prayer is indited by the Spirit, yet it is also the cry of a human heart. The Scriptures are the inspired Word of God, yet were they written by men who were something more than machines in the hand of the Spirit. Christ is both God and man. He is Omniscient, yet "increased in wisdom" (Luke 2:52). He was Almighty, yet was "crucified through weakness" (2 Cor. 13:4). He was the Prince of life, yet He died. High mysteries are these, yet faith receives them unquestioningly.

Gen. 50:20; Acts 2:23; 3:18; 4:27, 28.

They determine the free actions of men

Acts 4:27, 28 ; Eph. 2:10.

They secure conversion and the conditions for final salvation

Eph. 2:8 ; Phil. 2:13; 2 Tim. 2:25.

They render events certain

Matt. 16:21; Luke 18:31-33; 24:46; Acts 2:23; 13:29; 1 Cor. 11:19.

Objections to the Doctrine of the Decrees

They are really objections to God's Foreknowledge

Jonathan Edwards wrote,

width="20" valign="top" style="color:#B2B7F2;font-size:{{#switch:20px 10px=20px 30px=60px 40px=80px 50px=100px 60px=120px “ Whether God has decreed all things that ever come to pass or not, all that own the being of a God, own that He knows all things beforehand. Now, it is self-evident that if He knows all things beforehand, He either doth approve of them or doth not approve of them; that is, He either is willing they should be, or He is not willing they should be. But to will that they should be is to decree them. width="20" valign="bottom" style="color:#B2B7F2;font-size:{{#switch:20px 10px=20px 30px=60px 40px=80px 50px=100px 60px=120px ” {{#if:| Template:! colspan="3" style="padding-top: 10px" Template:! {{#if:| —{{{4}}}{{#if:|, {{{5}}}}}

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Finally, attempt to assume and then contemplate the opposite. To deny the Divine decrees would be to predicate a world and all its concerns regulated by undesigned chance or blind fate. Then what peace, what assurance, what comfort would there be for our poor hearts and minds? What refuge would there be to fly to in the hour of need and trial? None at all. There would be nothing better than the black darkness and abject horror of atheism. O my reader, how thankful should we be that everything is determined by infinite wisdom and goodness! What praise and gratitude are due unto God for His Divine decrees. It is because of them that "we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose" (Rom. 8:28). Well may we exclaim, "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen" (Rom 11:36).

"It is inconsistent with the moral freedom of man" - Louis Berkhof

Some have raised this as an objection to the doctrine of the decrees of God. This is what Louis Berkhof has to say in response:

width="20" valign="top" style="color:#B2B7F2;font-size:{{#switch:20px 10px=20px 30px=60px 40px=80px 50px=100px 60px=120px “ Man is a free agent with the power of rational self-determination. He can reflect upon, and in an intelligent way choose, certain ends, and can also determine his action with respect to them. The decree of God however, carries with it necessity. God has decreed to effectuate all things or, if He has not decreed that, He has at least determined that they must come to pass. He has decided the course of man's life for him. In answer to this objection it may be said that the Bible certainly does not proceed on the assumption that the divine decree is inconsistent with the free agency of man. It clearly reveals that God has decreed the free acts of man, but also that the actors are none the less free and therefore responsible for their acts, Gen. 50:19,20; Acts 2:23; 4:27,28. It was determined that Jews should bring about the crucifixion of Jesus; yet they were perfectly free in their wicked course of action, and were held responsible for this crime. There is not a single indication is Scripture that the inspired writers are conscious of a contradiction in connection with these matters. They never make an attempt to harmonize the two. This may well restrain us from assuming a contradiction here, even if we cannot reconcile both truths. width="20" valign="bottom" style="color:#B2B7F2;font-size:{{#switch:20px 10px=20px 30px=60px 40px=80px 50px=100px 60px=120px ” {{#if:| Template:! colspan="3" style="padding-top: 10px" Template:! {{#if:| —{{{4}}}{{#if:|, {{{5}}}}}

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"It takes away all motives for human exertion" - Louis Berkhof

Some have raised this as an objection to the doctrine of the decrees of God. This is what Louis Berkhof has to say in response:

width="20" valign="top" style="color:#B2B7F2;font-size:{{#switch:20px 10px=20px 30px=60px 40px=80px 50px=100px 60px=120px “ This objection is to the effect that people will naturally say that, if all things are bound to happen as God has determined them, they need not concern themselves about the future and need not make any efforts to attain salvation. But this is hardly correct. In the case of people who speak after that fashion this is generally the mere excuse of indolence and disobedience. The divine decrees are not addressed to men as a rule of action, and cannot be such a rule, since their contents become known only through, and therefore after, their realization. There is a rule of action, however, embodied in the law and in the gospel, and this puts men under obligation to employ the means which God has ordained. width="20" valign="bottom" style="color:#B2B7F2;font-size:{{#switch:20px 10px=20px 30px=60px 40px=80px 50px=100px 60px=120px ” {{#if:| Template:! colspan="3" style="padding-top: 10px" Template:! {{#if:| —{{{4}}}{{#if:|, {{{5}}}}}

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"It makes God the author of sin" - Louis Berkhof

Some have raised this as an objection to the doctrine of the decrees of God. This is what Louis Berkhof has to say in response:

width="20" valign="top" style="color:#B2B7F2;font-size:{{#switch:20px 10px=20px 30px=60px 40px=80px 50px=100px 60px=120px “ This, if true, would naturally be an insuperable objection, for God cannot be the author of sin. This follows equally from Scripture, Ps. 92:15; Eccl. 7:29; Jas. 1:13; 1 John 1:5, from the law of God which prohibits all sin, and from the holiness of God. But the charge is not true; the decree merely makes God the author of free moral beings, who are themselves the authors of sin. God decrees to sustain their free agency, to regulate the circumstances of their life, and to permit that free agency to exert itself in a multitude of acts, of which some are sinful. For good and holy reasons He renders these sinful acts certain, but He does not decree to work evil desires or choices efficiently in man. The decree respecting sin is not an efficient but a permissive decree, or a decree to permit, in distinction from a decree to produce, sin by divine efficiency. No difficulty attaches to such a decree which does not also attach to a mere passive permission of what He could very well prevent, such as the Arminians, who generally raise this objection, assume. The problem of God's relation to sin remains a mystery for us, which we are not able to solve. It may be said, however, that His decree to permit sin, while it renders the entrance of sin into the world certain, does not mean He takes delight in it; but only that He deemed it wise, for the purpose of His self-revelation, to permit moral evil, however abhorrent it may be to His nature. width="20" valign="bottom" style="color:#B2B7F2;font-size:{{#switch:20px 10px=20px 30px=60px 40px=80px 50px=100px 60px=120px ” {{#if:| Template:! colspan="3" style="padding-top: 10px" Template:! {{#if:| —{{{4}}}{{#if:|, {{{5}}}}}

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References

  1. By Louis Berkhof, in his Systematic Theology, page 102.

See also

External links