Theology: God (GOD DECREED)

What are the Decree’s? When asked this question one person suggested they were an Indian tribe. This is true however we need to give some serious thought to another group of decrees. The decrees of God.

 

We should up front know that the term only appears in our New Testament one time and it is used in relation to a decree or order from Caesar. (Luke 2:1)

 

BASIS FOR THE DOCTRINE

 

1. 1 Peter 1:20 mentions in relation to Christ

 

“Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you.” (see Revelation 13:8 also)

 

The Trinity arranged some things that were going to occur as they contemplated creation and all of its ramifications. Christ’s crucifixion and other items were set in eternity past.

 

2. Revelation 17:8 states there were names in the book of life before the foundation of the world. That is a whole study in itself. Are the names of the redeemed there before the foundation of the world, or is it the names of all mankind? Are names added, or are they taken away?

 

3. Matthew 13:35 states that there are things kept secret from the foundation of the world.

 

“That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world.”

 

Christ revealed some of these things when He spoke of the kingdom in mystery form. There may be things that are yet to be revealed.

 

4. The kingdom has been set from the foundation of the world. Matthew 25:34. It was set and it will come to pass at the scheduled time and circumstance. The prophets were not coming up with new information for the future. They were just revealing what the Lord had shown them, revealing what was set before creation.

 

5. There was a choosing before the foundation of the world according to Ephesians 1:4. The different items that we have already mentioned are part of the decrees of God.

 

6. Hebrews 1:10 mentions that the Lord set the foundations of the world. The above items will indicate a basis for the doctrine of a decree of God

that involves several parts.

 

The first question is this, “Is there one decree or numerous decrees?”

 

DEFINITION

 

The Westminster Shorter Catechism mentions that “The decrees of God are his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, whereby for his own glory He hath forordained whatsoever comes to pass.” (Hodge, Charles; Gross, Edward N. Ed.; “Systematic Theology”; Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988, p 535)

 

THE ONE DECREE POSITION

 

The decree/decrees are the overall purpose and plan of God by which He has determined all that He desires to come to pass.

 

This discussion does not concern any of His attributes — it is all outside of Himself. God’s decree has as its primary purpose the glory of God. Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14 “. . .praise of his glory. . . .” Thus, the decree is doxological, and not soteriological or dispensational.

 

Scripture is plain on the fact that God is sovereign and is free to do whatever He pleases, as well as whatever He wills. He set all in motion for His own good purpose.

 

God decreed in two manners: Directive Will: He decreed to certain ends: The death of Christ, our salvation, and future judgments. Permissive Will: He also decreed to allow certain things: Adam’s sin, unbeliever’s crimes, and falling asleep while reading boring theology books.

 

 

Dr. Houghton of Denver Baptist Bible College suggested that the decree was “His eternal purpose (plan) according to the counsel of His own will, whereby, for His own glory, He has foreordained whatso-ever comes to pass.”

 

The one decree position declares that God’s plan is in effect and all is based upon that fact. All things, His promises, His prophecy, and His dealings with man.

 

Bancroft seems to hold to one overall plan in his “Elemental Theology” where he entitles it “The Counsel Of God,” using the terminology of Ephesians 1:11. (He has a lengthy discussion on this topic on p 106ff.)

 

THE ONE DECREE —

BUT SEVERAL DIVISIONS WITHIN IT POSITION

 

Chafer in his “Major Bible Themes” states, “The decree of God includes those events which God does Himself and also includes all that God accomplishes through natural law, over which He is completely sovereign. More difficult to comprehend is the fact that His sovereign decree also extends to all the acts of men, which are included in His eternal plan.” (Taken from the book, Major Bible Themes by Lewis Sperry Chafer and John F. Walvoord. First edition copyright 1926, 1953 by Dallas Theological Seminary. Revised edition copyright 1974 by Dallas Theological Seminary. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. p 43)

 

While he speaks of “The decree” singular he also holds to, “subdivisions such as His decree to create, His decree to preserve the world, His decree of providence, or His wise guidance of the universe.” (Taken from the book, Major Bible Themes by Lewis Sperry Chafer and John F. Walvoord. First edition copyright 1926, 1953 by Dallas Theological Seminary. Revised edition copyright 1974 by Dallas Theological Seminary. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. p 44)

 

The interesting part is that in Walvoord’s revision of the seven volume set, this section is entitled “Divine Decrees” — plural.

 

Pardington quotes Strong, “By the decrees of God we mean that eternal plan by which God has rendered certain all the events of the universe, past, present, and future.” (Pardington, Revelation George P. Ph.D.; “Outline Studies In Christian Doctrine”; Harrisburg, PA: Christian Publications, 1926, 93)

 

He lists two areas of decrees: First decrees: Nature, creation and preservation, and Second decrees: providence and redemption.

 

THE PLURAL DECREE POSITION

 

Theissen has a very detailed discussion on page 147ff. He holds to the directive/permissive decree thought of the previous author.

 

We see by one of his comments, he is also a one purpose — plural decree man. “The decrees are sometimes represented as one decree.” (he quotes parts of Romans 8:28 and Ephesians 1:11) “In each case it is one purpose. Though to us the decrees appear to be many purposes, to the divine mind they are in reality but one great all — inclusive purpose.” (Thiessen, Henry C.; “Lectures In Systematic Theology”; Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1949, pp148-149)

 

There is little difference between these positions, other than the definition of terms. All view God as having one overall purpose or decree, which contains all the subheadings that are normally discussed.

 

FACTS ABOUT THE DECREES

 

1. God has a plan — singular. Ephesians 1:11. This might be likened to a large diamond. One stone.

 

2. God has many aspects to that plan or purpose. It is not just one big blob out there. It has many facets for our examination and learning. In relation to the diamond illustration, the plan or purpose is the stone, while the facets and sides make up the individual, distinct parts of the stone.

 

Pardington lists eight such facets.

 

a. The stability of the universe, Psalm 119:89-91;

 

b. The outward circumstances of nations, Acts 17:26;

 

c. The length of human life, Job. 14:5;

 

 

d. The mode of our death, John 21:19;

 

e. The free acts of men both good and evil, Isaiah 44:28; Ephesians 2:10; Genesis 50:20; 1 Kings 12:15; Luke 22:22; Acts 2:23; 4:27, 28;

Romans 9:17; 1 Peter 2:8; Revelation 17:17;

 

f. The salvation of believers, 1 Corinthians 2:7; Ephesians 1:3,10,11;

 

g. The establishment of Christ’s Kingdom, Psalm 2:7,8; 1 Corinthians 15:23;

 

h. The work of Christ and His people establishing it, Philippians 2:12,13; Revelation 5:7.

 

3. Other authors discuss a different set of decrees and how they relate to one another.

 

They normally list seven decrees and discuss the order in which they came about. Many theology books only discuss the first four, due to the fact that most agree on the final three.

 

There are groupings of people that hold to different orders of occurrence. I would like to list two listings of information from two different authors before we get into the groupings.

 

The decrees that are listed are those to elect, to create, to allow the fall, and to provide salvation.

 

WALVOORD*

 

SUPRA

 

INFRA

 

SUB

ARMINIAN

 

Elect

Create

Fall

Salvation

Apply Salv.

Create

Fall

Salvation

Elect

Apply Salv.

Create

Fall

Elect

Salvation

Apply Salv.

Similar To Infra Except Elect Is Based On Foreknowledge

 

*Walvoord, John F. editor; Lewis Sperry Chafer Systematic Theology; Wheaton: Victor Books, Vol. I & II, 1988, p 104-106

 

 

THEISSEN*

 

SUPRA-   LAPSARIAN

 

INFRA-   LAPSARIAN

 

SUB-   LAPSARIAN

 

1.

 

ELECTION SAVE SOME

REPROBATE

THE   REST

CREATE

 

CREATE

 

2.

 

CREATE

 

PERMIT   THE FALL

 

PERMIT   THE FALL

 

3.

 

PERMIT   THE FALL

 

PROVIDE SALVATION FOR THE ELECT

PROV. SALVATION FOR ALL

4.

 

PROVIDE   SALVATION

 

ELECTION

 

ELECTION

 

*Theissen, p 343

 

The Supra-lapsarianism listing is usually identified with Hyper-Calvinism. Supra-lapsarian is from two terms “supra” meaning “before or above” and “lapsus” meaning “fall.” These people hold that God elected some to salvation and the rest of mankind to hell. He then decreed the creation, to allow the fall and the provision of salvation.

 

Infra-lapsarian is from “infra” meaning “below” or “subsequent” and “lapsa” meaning “fall.” They see God decreeing to create, then allow the fall, provide salvation for the elect, and finally to elect.

 

The Sub-lapsarian holds the same as the infra, with the one exception that salvation was provided for all of mankind, not just the elect.

 

I might just mention one teaching that you might run across in your study. Amyraldian is the teaching from Moise Amyraut (1596-1664). He is listed as a semi-Calvinist.

 

Buswell believes that Calvin was probably an Infra from what he sees in his work. Calvin does not discuss the issue specifically but does have information relating to it.

 

 

A possible answer to some of this is the idea of having one decree. It would eliminate this discussion. God just decreed one decree all at once, and involved in that decree were all the facets and parts.

 

If you like a sequence then the Sub position would, I believe, be the majority view among fundamentalists. That is not based on research, but observation. It seems to be most consistent with the idea of Christ dieing for the world. Walvoord, however (p 162) mentions that the infra is the desirable over the sub. He mentions this as the “moderate Calvinist” view.

 

The decree, or plan in God’s mind was immediate and complete — without sequence. The decree, however in its different parts must occur in time as a sequence. Pardington mentions a similar thought. “To our view the decrees are many, because they are worked out successively in time; but in their nature and from the divine standpoint they are one. What a plan is to an architect, that, so to speak, the decrees are to God.” (Pardington, p 94,95)

 

Augustine (Confess., XII. 15:as quoted in Shedd, William G.T.; “Dogmatic Theology”; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984, p 395) “God willeth not one thing now, and another anon; but once, and at once, and always, he willeth all things that he willeth; not again and again, nor now this, now that; nor willeth afterwards, what before he willed not, nor willeth not, what before he willed; because such a will is mutable; and no mutable thing is eternal.”

 

If the decree is the overall plan of God then there are a number of terms that can be studied in the Scripture along this line: decrees, counsel, ordination, good pleasure, predestinate, and election.

 

PROBLEMS

 

1. This thought of decrees seems very much like fatalism in its presentation; however it is strongly held within this view that man has and uses his free will — thus, dispelling any hint of fatalism.

 

2. This also seems to some, to show that God is responsible for evil. This is not true, in that He allowed evil to develop, however He had nothing to do with developing it Himself.

 

 

THE IMPORTANCE OF THE DOCTRINE

 

We need to know a little about the plan of God that we so often talk about. The plan of God was set before the foundation of the world and as part of God’s activities we should find it of interest and importance.

 

APPLICATION

 

1. He is sovereign and nothing is a surprise to Him, nor is anything going

to happen outside of His plan. In short you can’t jump out of His plan for your life and ruin everything. We may stray from that plan, but if we are attempting to walk with Him there is no way that we can ruin His plan for us, indeed, His plan for us includes those DUMB side trips that we so often seem to take.

 

2. His plan will come to pass. The Devil will not stop what God wants to do. We will not stop what God wants to do. He will bring all things to pass as planned before the foundation of the world.

 

3. He has a specific plan for your life. No matter what happens — even if you run into roadblocks — He is controlling, even the road blocks.

 

4. Knowing that God has a plan for each of us, and knowing what He has done for us, it is then logical that we should do all we can for Him. In His devotional, Spurgeon mentions this thought and puts it into proper place with God’s sovereign rule. “O anxious gazer, look not so much at the battle below, for there thou shalt be enshrouded in smoke, and amazed with garments rolled in blood; but lift thine eyes yonder where the Savior lives and pleads, for while He intercedes, the cause of God is safe. Let us fight as if it all depended upon us, but let us look up and know that all depends upon Him.” (Spurgeon, Charles H.; “Morning And Evening”; Mclean, VA: Macdonald Pulishing Co., p 223)[1]

 


[1] Stanley L. Derickson Ph.D. B.A. (n.d.). DERICKSON’S NOTES ON THEOLOGY: A STUDY BOOK IN THEOLOGY.

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