What are the Decrees of God?

by James Fisher

QUESTION 7. What are the decrees of God?

ANSWER: 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.

Q. 1. What does the word counsel as ascribed to God import?

A. Not the receiving the knowledge of things from another, or in the way of study and advisement, as among men; but the eternity, wisdom, and immutability of his determinations, Psalm 33:11; Prov. 19:21.

Q. 2. Does the scripture speak expressly of God's decrees?

A. Yes; in many places; such as, Psalm 2:7; Job. 28:26 and 38:10; Isa. 10:22; Jer. 5:22, &c.

Q. 3. Are we by the decrees of God, to understand the things decreed, or the act decreeing?

A. The act decreeing or discerning.

Q. 4. Is the decreeing act of God one simple act only?

A. Yes; because of the perfect oneness or simplicity of his nature, on account of which he could not but decree all things at once; because all things are naked and opened unto his omniscient eye, Heb. 4:13; and because of his immutability, Mal. 3:6.

Q 5. Why then do we speak of the divine decrees as various, or many?

A. Because of the many objects which the decreeing act of God respects: the things decreed are many, but the act decreeing is but one only.

Q. 6. What are the properties of the divine decrees?

A. That they are eternal, most wise, absolute, and unchangeable.

Q. 7. How do you prove the decrees of God to be eternal?

A. The decrees of election, and publishing the gospel, are eternal, as is evident from Eph. 1:4; and 1 Cor. 2:7; and therefore, all other decrees must be eternal likewise, because he decreed all things at once, by one simple act, Acts 15:18.

Q. 8. In what does the wisdom of God's decrees appear?

A. In the beautiful order in which they are executed, Mark 7:37 -- "He hath done all things well"

Q. 9. Why are the divine decrees said to be absolute?

A. Because they depend upon no condition without God himself, but entirely and solely upon his own sovereign will and pleasure, Eph. 1:11.

Q. 10. Are there not certain means by which the decrees of God are executed?

A. Yes; but these means are decreed as well as the end, 2 Thess. 2:13.

Q. 11. How does it appear from scripture, that the means and the end are connected in the decree?

A. From the preservation of Paul, and those who were with him in the ship; God had decreed to preserve them all, Acts 27:24; yet lawful means were to be used; the shipmen must not get leave to flee out of the ship, otherwise the rest cannot be saved, as Paul tells the centurion and the soldiers, ver. 31.

Q. 12. What is the difference between the means of execution, and decreeing conditionally?

A. The means of execution are stated in the decree; but to decree a thing conditionally, is to decree it upon an uncertain event, which may, or may never take place.

Q. 13. What is the absurdity of conditional decrees?

A. They make the will of God, which is the first cause, to depend upon the will of the creature: and they plainly suppose, that either God is ignorant of the event, or incapable to accomplish it, or that he has determined nothing certainly about it; all which are blasphemously absurd.

Q. 14. Are all the decrees of God then unchangeable?

A. Yes; "from all eternity he hath, for his own glory, unchangeably foreordained whatsoever comes to pass in time," Eph. 1:11.[17]

Q. 15. How do you prove the decrees of God to be unchangeable?

A. From scripture and from reason.

Q. 16. How is it proved from scripture?

A. From Job 23:13 -- "He is in one mind, and who can turn him?" Isa. 46:10 -- "My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure."

Q. 17. How do you prove from reason, that the divine decrees are unchangeable?

A. From this one argument -- That there is in God no defect of wisdom, power, or faithfulness, from whence any change of his will may flow; as is the case among men, when they alter their resolutions.

Q. 18. Does the immutability of God's decree destroy the liberty of man's will, or the contingency of second causes?

A. No; there is in it no "violence offered to the will of the creature, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established," Matt. 17:12; Acts 2:23.[18]

Q. 19. Whence is it, that the absolute or unchangeable decree does not take away the liberty of the will?

A. Because God, in the execution of his decree, does not change the nature of things, but suffers rational agents to act freely and voluntarily, as being under no more constraint or compulsion, than though there had been no such decree.

Q. 20. How is this made clear from scripture?

A. By the instance of Pilate and the Jews, when they crucified the Lord of glory: what they did was with full freedom of their will, and yet they did nothing but what God's "hand and counsel determined before to be done," Acts 4:27, 28.

Q. 21. Does any thing come to pass in time, but what was decreed from eternity?

A. No; for the very reason why any thing comes to pass in time, is because God decreed it, Eph. 1:11; Acts 15:18.

Q. 22. Are things that are casual or accidental, positively decreed?

A. Yes; as is evident from the instances of Joseph's advancement in Egypt; and the not breaking a bone of Christ; and many others.

Q. 23. What has the decree of God fixed with respect to man's continuance in this world?

A. It has immovably fixed the precise moment of every one's life and death, with every particular circumstance thereof.

Q. 24. How may it be proved that the precise moment of every one's death is unalterably fixed in the decree?

A. From express scripture testimony, Job 14:5; Psalm 39:4; from the reason given why the Jews could not lay hands on Christ; namely, "because his hour was not yet come," John 7:30; and from God's numbering the hairs of our head, Matt. 10:30; much more the days and moments of our life.

Q. 25. Were there not fifteen years added to Hezekiah's days, after the prophet said to him, "Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live," Isa. 38:1, 5?

A. The sentence of death, by the prophet, was not an intimation of the decree of God, that Hezekiah was presently to die; but of the nature of his disease, which, according to the ordinary course of second causes, was moral, if the power of God had not miraculously interposed.

Q. 26. How does the decree of God extend to things naturally and morally good?

A. Effectively: because God is the author and efficient cause of all good, Phil. 2:13.

Q. 27. How does it extend to things morally evil?

A. Permissively and directively only, Acts 14:16.

Q. 28. Is the permissive decree a bare inactive permitting of evil?

A. No; it determines the event of the evil permitted, and overrules it to a good end, contrary to the intention both of the work and worker.

Q. 29. What scripture example is there of this?

A. God permits Joseph's brethren to sell him into Egypt, and Potiphar to throw him unjustly into prison, and yet overrules both these evils, and makes them means, contrary to the intention both of the work and workers, for executing the decree of his advancement to the greatest honour, Gen. 45:5-8; and 50:20 -- "Ye thought evil against me, (says Joseph to his brethren,) but God meant it unto good."

Q. 30. How can the decree of God be permissive and efficacious at the same time?

A. It is permissive, with respect to the sinfulness of the action as a moral evil; and efficacious, with respect to the matter of it as a natural act.

Q. 31. How do you prove that God cannot be the author of sin?

A. From the contrariety of it to his holy nature and law, and the indication he has manifested against it, in what Christ suffered on account of it; for he can never be the author of that of which he is the avenger.

Q. 32. What is the great end of all God's decrees?

A. His own glory, Prov. 16:4 -- "The Lord hath made all things for himself;" and particularly the glory of his mercy and justice, Rom. 9:22, 23, and, next to his own glory, the good of the elect, both here and hereafter, Rom. 8:28.

Q. 33. Who are the special objects of God's decrees?

A. Angels and men.

Q. 34. What is God's decree concerning angels and men, commonly called?

A. His predestinating of them.

Q. 35. What is meant by predestination?

A. It is God's unchangeable purpose or decree, concerning the last end, and eternal state, of angels and men, 1 Tim. 5:21; Jude ver. 6; Ex. 33:19; Rom. 9:11, 13, 18.

Q. 36. Is the precise number of angels and men, thus predestinated, particularly and unchangeably defined?

A. Yes; "their number is so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished," 2 Tim. 2:19; John 13:18.[19]

Q. 37. How is the decree of predestination usually divided?

A. Into the decree of election and reprobation.

Q. 38. What is God's decree of election, as it respects men?

A. It is his choosing a certain number of mankind, in Christ, to eternal life, and the means of it, to the praise of his glorious grace, Eph. 1:4; 2 Thess. 2:13, 14.

Q. 39. Was it the foresight of faith, or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing whatsoever in the creature, that moved God to make choice of some men, and not of others?

A. By no means; but his mere free grace and love Eph. 1:6, 12.

Q. 40. What is God's decree of reprobation, as it respects men?

A. It is his passing by, and ordaining all the rest of mankind whom he has not chosen, to dishonour and wrath, to be for their sins inflicted, to the praise of the glory of his justice, Rom. 9:17, 18, 22; 1 Pet. 2:8; Jude verse 4.

Q. 41. Since God has appointed the elect to glory, has he not also foreordained all the means?

A. Yes; for "they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ," 1 Thess. 5:9, 10;[20] and free grace reigns, through his righteousness, to their eternal life, Rom. 5:21.

Q. 42. Do the decrees of election and reprobation import any partiality, or, injustice in God?

A. No more than a potter is esteemed partial, or unjust, in making, out of the same lump, one vessel to honour, and another to dishonour, Rom. 9:20, 21.

Q. 43. Is sin in the reprobate the cause of their damnation, or of their reprobation?

A. Their sin is indeed the cause of their damnation, Rom. 6:23 -- "The wages of sin is death;" but the sovereign will and pleasure of God is the cause of their reprobation, Matt. 11:25, 26; Rom. 9:18.

Q. 44. Are the secret decrees of God, concerning the eternal state of men, the rule of faith and practice?

A. No; but the revealed will of God only, Deut. 29:29.

Q. 45. Does not this doctrine of particular election and reprobation limit the general call of the gospel?

A. No; for Christ commissions to go "into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature," Mark 16:15; not as they are elect or reprobate, but as they are lost sinners of Adam's family, Matt. 9:13; therefore, all that hear the gospel have an equal warrant to believe, 1 John 3:23.

Q. 46. Has it a tendency to make men careless in the use of the means of salvation?

A. No; because God has chosen us to salvation, "through sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth," 2 Thess. 2:13.

Q. 47. Ought we then to improve the means of salvation, without regard to the decree?

A. We ought no more to regard the decree in the matter of believing to the salvation of our souls, than in eating, drinking, buying, selling, or any other common action of life; because "the secret things belong unto the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed, belong unto us, and to our children for ever," Deut. 29:29.

Q. 48. What improvement ought we to make of the doctrine of absolute election?

A. We ought to be encouraged to believe in Christ: considering that electing love pitches on the chief of sinners, Ezek. 16:6; that it flows not from, nor is rounded upon, any condition to be performed by men, Rom. 9:11; and that it contains in it all things pertaining to life and godliness, 2 Pet. 1:3.
[17] Larger Catechism, Question 12.

[18] Confession of Faith chap, iii. § 1.

[19] Confession of Faith, chapter iii, § 4.

[20] Ibid., § 6.


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