The Decree Of God
by John Williamson

Harford, New York

    The unfolding of history is the progressive manifestation of one single purpose and plan in the mind of God. This has often been referred to as the decree of God. Its study and understanding are vital, because the decree describes the very essence of God, and the decree is the very heart of orthodox, Bible-believing Christianity.

    The decree has been stated in several familiar standards of theological expression, and by notable teachers of the Christian faith, such as:

    "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........ In other words, with infinite power and infinite wisdom God has, from all eternity past, decided and                chosen and determined the course of all events without exception for all eternity to come."

- J. Oliver Buswell

"God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established."

- Westminster Confession


"God hath decreed in himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably, all things whatsoever comes to pass; 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 courses taken away. but rather established. in which appears his wisdom in disposing all things, and power and faithfulness in accomplishing his decree."

- Philadelphia Confession

    The Scripture speaks of one decree of purpose that is executed in a variety of ways and along various avenues. It is script urally proper to refer to the single decree of God, rather then His many purposes. " them who are called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28). "...of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will" (Ephesians 1: 11).

    The decree of God was instantly and eternally conceived in the mind of
the Almighty, but has been manifested in the relentless unrolling of chronological history. "The Lord of hosts hath sworn, saying, Surely as I have thought, so shal1 it come to pass; and as I have purposed, so shall it stand" (lsaiah 14:24). "The counsel of the Lord standeth for ever, the thoughts of his heart to al1 generations" (Psalm 33:11).

The decree of God flows from an independent, infinite, and unrestricted will and determination. Being the sovereign Creator He knows no contingencies, emergencies, or necessities influencing His decree of its accurate execution. Nor, therefore, can there be any opposition or doubt to the certainty of the degree's full course and conclusion.

God's decree is His purpose and should be kept distinct in thinking from its execution which takes form in three different operations: creation, providence, and redemption.

To acknowledge the existence of God's decree must, of necessity, affirm its scope to encompass the smal1est detail of any event that will bear ultimate sway to the decree's final conclusion, no matter how smal1 or subtle.

In the book of Esther it is God's ultimate purpose to rescue the Hebrew race, seemingly caught in the iron-clad conspiracy of the evil Haman. In chapter six the king is bothered by insomnia and, "as it just happens," he requests the royal record book to amuse himself during the period of sleeplessness. In the record book he discovers a piece of information that will, ultimately, save the nation.

The doctrine of the decree is not only displayed in the scriptures, but is also derived from the divine attributes. For example, God is defined as possessing omniscience, which is the infinite and eternal possession of all facts. It isn't simply the idea that God knows all things, but that He has eternally known all things. Therefore, omniscience renders God incapable of learning anything. All knowledge has, forever, resided in Him.

Therefore, the attribute of omniscience implies a purpose with fixity. Before creation there was nothing but God and, even then, He knew all things and every detail of history. He conceived them as being certain. Nothing from creation influenced the plan of history in God's mind because the omniscience existed before creation.

Shedd has said, "An event must be made certain, before it can be known as a certain event." Although foreknowledge and decree existed in the divine mind eternally, logically decree precedes foreknowledge.

The decree can be seen in God's immutability. God does not increase or decrease in knowledge or power. He operates without contingencies and is the only truly independent being in the universe. Therefore, what He has purposed to do shall remain. He has no need to collect a variety of plans which are selected on the basis of emerging contingencies. He has one decree which He is infallibly carrying out in the creation.


Two main objections are raised to the doctrine of the decree; many cannot reconcile the decree of God with the free agency of man, and others reject the doctrine, concluding it renders God the perpetrator of sin - an unthinkable conclusion.

The first objection grossly misunderstands the freedom of man. Man's freedom is restricted by his sinful nature. A horse is free to act like his nature dictates - a horse; he is not free to act like a soaring eagle for that is not his nature.

Man is a totally depraved sinner and is free to act like a totally depraved sinner. Jeremiah makes the observation that man has as much freedom to act righteously as an African has to change the color of his skin or the leopard to shift the arrangements of spots on his back (Jeremiah 13:23). Man is called a spiritual corpse in Ephesians 2: I, and is free to act like a spiritual cadaver.

Free agency is not equated with uncertainty. The decree of God is rendered certain but not of necessity. Consider the episode of the Amorites in Joshua chapter 24. They occupied part of the land God promised to Israel. They were determined to stay and God's decree purposed that they leave. In verse 12, Joshua reflects on that event and remembers the Lord's pronouncement, "And I sent the hornet before
you, which drave them out from before you................ " In other words, God didn't make them go against their wiIl, He just made them willing to go.The event was not decreed of necessity but was rendered certain. The freedom of man remains intact and the sovereign decree of God was accomplished.

The second objection to the doctrine, "It renders God the perpetrator of sin," is more difficult to address. Any theological system that recognizes the existence of evil in the world, and teaches the absolute sovereignty of God must, of necessity, find an antinomy when they ponder this matter. If God were not sovereign and could not prevent evil, the theological tension would disappear. But the Bible knows of no such God who is less than omnipotent or sovereign. Or, if there was no evil in the world the problem would evaporate. However, simple human
observations prove such a notion a fallacy (not to mention the witness of abundant scripture).

The Bible teaches God is sovereign in each and every respect while evil does exist in the creation. and there must the answer begin. Both of those I rut hs are evident in the Scripture.

    Obviously, God must have included sin in his decree; the scriptures It'ad! that fact on many occasions. most notably Acts 2:23, "Him (Christ) being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain." God determined Christ should die on the cross of Calvary and that purpose was executed by "wicked hands" committing a dastardly deed of injustice. The doers of this act are held responsible for their act of sin, while the crucifixion itself assured the salvation of Christ's people. Again, the decree implies certainty not necessity.

God has decreed to permit sin and, therefore, it must be right for Him to do so. Undoubtedly, He has the means to eradicate alI evil; however, God did not create sin but He created the sinner who sins and alIows him to walIow in his sinful nature.

As water on a fire attenuates the flame, so a decrease of water allows the flame to pursue its own nature of relentless destruction and consumption. The withdrawal of Godly influence upon sinful man allows the fulI force of man's inherited sinfulness.

The brothers of Joseph had evil designs upon their brother, and plotted an evil crime against him. Their actions were motivated by sin. However, the event was used of God to rescue the entire nation from the seven years of famine. Joseph, reflecting back on the entire program the Lord had done, said, "But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive" (Genesis 50:20).

The acts of sinful creatures remain the guilt of the sinner and not that of God. Man is born totalIy depraved and any "good" he does is by the grace of God. For example, Paul uses the illustration of the potter and the clay in Romans 9:19-29. His point is to display the absolute sovereignty of God in the affairs of men. He anticipates the objection. "Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?" In other words, if God is fulIy in control of the day-to­day events in and around man (and he is as Paul has just explained), then how does God assign guilt to creatures if they have not resisted His purpose?

The answer is the potter and the clay. The clay, by nature. is a glob that is formless, valueless, shapeless and unattractive. By nature it has no value of its own, but if the potter forms it into a moderately valuable platter, or a priceless piece of art, the value is to the credit of the potter not the clay.

By nature man is totally depraved and dead in sin and if he produces any outward good at all it is to the credit of God and His grace. As the natural shapelessness and valuelessness remains the credit of the clay. so the natural sin remains the man's.

    The decree, whether permissive or determinative. still renders the outcome certain.

    His decree is said to include alI things (Daniel 4:35), and specifically is revealed to include the age span of man (Job 14:5), the salvation of His people (2 Thessalonians 2: 13), the free acts of men whether good or evil (Isaiah 14:28, Acts 2:23), and the stability of the creation (Genesis 8:22, Psalm 119:89-91).

    But the question, then, "For what purpose?" The decree of God is working itself out in creation toward one single and glorious climax. In the end of the age all things wiII have fulfiIled their planned end in order that God's glory would receive praise (Ephesians 1: 11-12), the riches of His glory would be displayed (Ephesians 2:5-7), and the instrument of His grace, Jesus Christ would be exalted (Colossians 1: 16, Revelation 22:3-6).

    God is sovereign in the creation. His planned purpose is continuously being executed in the universe by means of creation, redemption, and providence. In the eternal age to come, the praises of His great glory and scheme of salvation shall reverberate the expanse of His domain signaling the successful purpose of His eternal decree. He remains the Holy God and the absolute Sovereign of the universe.