• Brad Jessen

Walking Through the Confession Series | Part 4


On God's Decree

Long ago, in the year of our Lord, Nineteen Hundred and Ninety-three, a song arose in the music scene with lyrics that still are unrivaled by any song before or after it:


There is one thing that has

always been true.

It will be true forever.

God is in control

We believe that His children will

not be forsaken.

God is in control.

We will choose to remember and

never be shaken.

There is no power above or

beside Him. We know

Oh, God is in control.


I’m sure that many of you have now started to bob your head along as you recognize the wonder that is Twila Paris’ “God is in control,” (and if you haven’t heard it, do give it a listen for that pure 90s Christian Music sound). I anticipate after writing the lyrics out, I’ll have it stuck in my head for at least a day. While I hope you’ll appreciate this “tongue-in-cheek” reference to such a song, I hope you’ll also appreciate just how true the core message is.

More importantly, however, by the end of this post, I hope you’ll see how it relates to the third chapter of the 1689 Baptist confession is titled “On God’s Decree” (https://www.the1689confession.com/1689/chapter-3).

While this deals with quite the heavy lifting theologically (“decree” definitely sounds like one of those words that has a certain pull that makes people grunt loudly in agreement after someone says it), the truth that it communicates is quite as simple as Mrs. Paris put it those almost 30 years ago, and it’s even more important that we understand it. So, without further ado, let’s jump in.


What is it?

What is a decree? It is defined in Webster’s as “An authoritative order having the force of law.” God’s Decree is exemplified in Scripture as early as the first chapters of Genesis. God, as creator, gives a command, and all of creation bends to make that command a reality when it was not so. However, the reality of God’s decree doesn’t stop at the “water’s edge” of Creation, so to speak (which is exactly where God told them that they should go – Genesis 1:9).

The contents of Chapter 3 can be gathered under four statements:


1. God’s Decree broadly concerns all of History, and nothing in time or eternity lies outside of God’s authoritative command.

2. God’s Decree specifically relates to Salvation-God is its author and sole source.

3. God’s is not affected by any outside influence in willing in His Decree. Anything and everything that God has Decreed has been solely at the good pleasure of His will.

4. God’s Decree does not override the will of God’s creatures, but is the ground of it. God’s creatures are still responsible for their own actions.


A few quotes are in order to help fill out these points. Most of these points (1, 3, and 4) can be seen directly in the first paragraph of the chapter. I’ll quote the whole paragraph below, but break up the flow into sections with a note at the end of which of these points it refers to:


God hath decreed in himself, [3]


from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably [3],


all things, whatsoever comes to pass [1];


yet so as thereby is God neither the author of sin nor hath fellowship with any therein nor is violence offered to the will of the creature, nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established [4];


in which appears His wisdom in disposing all things, and power and faithfulness in accomplishing His decree. [1]


Paragraphs 3-7 mostly cover point 2 above. We’ll only quote a part of paragraph 3 here to get an idea of some of the language that’s used.


By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated, or foreordained to eternal life through Jesus Christ, to the praise of His glorious grace; others being left to act in their sin to their just condemnation, to the praise of His glorious justice. [2]


What does Scripture say about it?

This chapter, as with all chapters in the confession, has many Scripture references, but perhaps the best piece to quote as a summation of all that is said is in Isaiah 46:9-11 (https://www.esv.org/Isaiah+46.9-11).


I am God, and there is none like me,

10 declaring the end from the beginning

and from ancient times things not yet done,

saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,

and I will accomplish all my purpose,’

11 …. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass;

I have purposed, and I will do it. (Isaiah 46:9c-11)


This declaration comes in a chapter where God describes the process of making an idol and then compares that manmade piece of material with Himself-the all-powerful God of the universe who made all that we see. God outlines the obvious fact that “there is none like” Him. God stands above all creation and no thing supposed as a “god” could even begin to rival his position as such.

God stands above all creation and no thing supposed as a “god” could even begin to rival his position as such.

How can the reader be sure that God is indeed God? The description points to God’s might.

We see God’s might in that nothing can stand in the way of what God wants to do. Verse 11 says that God “will do” what He has purposed—His “counsel shall stand and [He] will accomplish all [his] purpose.” The only way that God could guarantee this is if there was no being that could rival Him.

To explain this idea, consider this analogy. I can only assert that I will accomplish my purpose in this world insofar as I am limited by who I am. I can say “I will go to the store and buy a pizza tomorrow,” but there are many factors that could prohibit me: a car wreck, a sickness, the lack of pizza at the store, or any number of events or circumstances. All of these are external factors that prevent me from “accomplishing my purpose.” As a side note, this limitation on ourselves as created beings is what James has in mind for us to consider when planning our days out (James 4:14-17). All of these things rival-or compete-with me. To the contrary, God has no rival or competitor in anything. No circumstance, event, or other person can or will prevent God from doing as He wills. What God says happens in the exact same way as it happens in Genesis 1: God says “Let there be” and “there was.”

However, Isaiah does not just outline the fact that what God says goes, but the importance to explaining God’s power in relationship to when He has said it. Verse 10 states that God “declares the end from the beginning.” The word here for “beginning” is the exact same word as that in Genesis 1:1, which reinforces this very fact. God is not at every moment making reactive decisions to what is presented to Him by creation, but He has determined everything that is to happen all the way to the end from the very start.

God is not at every moment making reactive decisions to what is presented to Him by creation, but He has determined everything that is to happen all the way to the end from the very start

It is true that God is active in all of creation for all of time, but we must not lose sight that when God acts, He is doing so because he purposed from the very outset of creation itself not in the moment as we would.

Finally, when we discuss “God’s Decree”, we should note the correlation of God’s “declaring.” From Genesis 1 again, we note that God’s Word is powerful and effective, and when we say “God decrees” it harmonizes with this fact. God as the “declaring” God of Isaiah 46 is issuing His order and establishing His purpose in the same way that this section of the confession as discussed above.


Why is it Important?

Understanding God’s Decree is a critical aspect of knowing how God has revealed Himself in Scripture. We must hold fast to this for the sole reason that it puts God in His proper place.

Fundamentally, there can only be three explanations for the existence of everything. Either it is there by the design of one or more beings, it is there by happenstance, or it is there by some mixture of the two.

The Bible squarely declares God to be the God of all creation from beginning to end and everything that happens in between. This means that the only option is that creation is here by design, but the Bible goes further. God is not one of many gods in control, neither is God some partner with a force of “randomness” (think of this impersonal force as what we might call “chance” or “coincidence”). God is alone sovereign above all creation and its sole ruler.

God is alone sovereign above all creation and its sole ruler.

This is critical for our understanding when talking about God because our greatest creation as creatures is to think less of God than we ought (Psalm 50:21). Reviewing God’s decree shows us just how easy it is to think of God’s power as less than the Bible says. Having this as a key point in our theology ensures that we guard against thoughts and feelings that would chip away at the fact that “God is God.”

Our response to this fact should be one of reverence and humility. No one on this earth will completely understand the depths of God as Zach wrote previously on the Trinity in chapter 2. Paragraph 7 of this chapter speaks of the “mystery of predestination,” but offers a response that should be had for all doctrines of God: “so shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God, and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation to all that sincerely obey the gospel.”

“Consolation” is the practical benefit of this belief. It offers us as believers a great comfort knowing that whatever may happen it is not a surprise to God. When we are challenged with problems at work, in our homes, during school, on the road, or wherever we might be, we have a great source of strength knowing that our God is God over all that happens.

Perhaps thinking about this subject has left you spinning about how this all fits together. If that’s the case, then remember that these weighty matters are often simple matters of faith. What is that simple faith, then? It is as Twaila put it so succinctly in 1993- “God is in control.”


Prayer

God,

I thank you that you are in control of all that has happened, is happening, and will happen on this Earth. I thank you that my salvation is not something that I have done, but a work that you have done and have applied to my life and I recognize that any other foundation would be one subject to failure. I thank you that your care for me is not dependent on any external influence, but because of your great love for me as your child. I ask that you would continue to teach me of this simple fact as I face all kinds of situations throughout my days. Lord, help me to live in a way that communicates my trust in you to those around me and brings you glory. It is for the sake of Jesus and in his name that I ask these things.

Amen.