*To view the first chapter uninterrupted, see the site included below this article
This is not only one of the weightiest chapters of the entire confession but it is also one of the weightiest doctrines in all of scripture. Because of the contents of this chapter we have seen relationships crumble, those who once called one another brothers now treat each other as enemies, and churches have divided. However, if we want to call ourselves Christians then we must pursue the study of God, which necessarily requires at some point for us to have something of a comfortable understanding of this. That doesn’t mean we fully need to know it. It’s not a primary doctrine necessary for salvation. But, if we want to fully know God and love Him wholesomely, if we want to have a proper fear of Him, then we need to understand the truth about His sovereignty. Let us proceed forward with grace and humility with an open mind to the scriptures.
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 causes taken away, but rather established; in which appears His wisdom in disposing all things, and power and faithfulness in accomplishing His decree.
Before the foundation of the world was ever laid, before the first atom burst onto the scene of that dark void, God decreed all things that have come to pass and will come to pass. This means all things, not just some things. Not only did he decree them, but because God is sovereign and all powerful he did it freely and unchangeably. This means that no one or nothing stood in his way. Many times we think of Christianity in a dualistic sense; meaning, we think there is a power struggle going on in the heavens between good and evil. Nothing is further from the truth. God is supremely sovereign. Another overlooked aspect of creation and the sovereign decree of God is addressed in this first sentence: He did it by the most wise and holy counsel of His will. God was not arbitrarily firing from the hip while he created the world, nor did he create a big explosion and cross his fingers hoping for the best outcome. He decreed all things by wise counsel. That means with thought and methodically.
“In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,” Ephesians 1:11 (emphasis mine)
If this doesn’t naturally bring about the creation of sin thought, then you weren’t really reading it. The writers of the 1689 happily addressed it promptly. Beginning with “yet so as thereby..” all the way through the end of paragraph one, I would summarize it in modern English as follows:
Though God decrees and puts into motion all things, he is not the author of sin. Sin is a free will choice of fallen men and their Adamic natures. God cannot look upon sin, much less be the one to create it. However, God brings about His purposes, which sometimes derive from sin (think Joseph and his brothers, the crucifixion of Christ) through secondary causes. Secondary causes are when humans act according to their fallen nature in order to bring about the purposes of God. However, God does not force violence or sin on man in bringing about His decrees for the man is acting just as he wants to act. It’s his very nature to sin and rebel against God just as Joseph’s brothers did. Through His direct action in all things good, and the secondary causes of wicked men, God brings about His purposes.
Maybe that wasn’t a simple explanation but at least it was modern. Let me help you further here. The most simple, and paradoxically most complex, example that we have in scripture is the killing of Jesus as described by Peter in the book of Acts:
“for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” Acts 4:27-28
Although God knoweth whatsoever may or can come to pass, upon all supposed conditions, yet hath He not decreed anything, because He foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions.
Simply put, God doesn’t make His decrees after he looks down the tunnel of time and sees what will happen. This is flawed logic because it would mean stripping God of His sovereignty. If He has to look down the corridors of time to see what will happen, that means that whatever happened was brought about by something else. I would like to briefly try to show you an example from scripture. In Paul’s epistle to the Romans in the eighth chapter he whips out the unbreakable chain of salvation which ironically tends to be the go-to verse for those that argue God looks into the future at what will happen then decrees it. If you do this, it is completely understandable. Mankind wants to have complete control over everything. In a sense, the root of all of our rebellion is man saying that he should be god instead of Jehovah. If we say God decrees all things, it seems to strip man of all power, especially that power over his own salvation. Let’s take a quick look at Romans, we will handle the salvation thing afterwards.
“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” Romans 8:29
The open minded bible reader is not out of bounds to read this and think that it means God foresaw us believing in Him and thus decreed it. However, when we take this view and try to make it compatible with other scripture, things don’t add up. There’s too much exegetical Pilates going on here. The modern christian man has a Greek lexicon in his pocket. A quick search of the Greek word for “foreknew” used in the passage shows the following passages also use the same greek word in its various forms:
Acts 2:23 - this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.
Romans 11:2 - God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel?
1 Peter 1:20 - He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you
Really study these passages. Does it make sense to say that God looked down the corridors of time and discovered these things and thus decreed them? I won’t linger longer on this point.
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.
God predestines all who will come to a knowing faith in Him. Those who perish only perish because of their own choice to remain in the sin of their nature that they love so very much. Man is not free outside of Christ, only in Christ is man free. Those who Christ does not call His own are in bondage to sin. They do not seek good. Such were some of you! But God, being rich in mercy.. This is the biggest pill to swallow for everyone. We shrink back at the thought that any would perish. But, for the student of the Word, the one who seeks to be humbled and pours into gaining an understanding of truth will see that the only thought that is abhorrent is that a holy and righteous God would save even one man. The internet is laden with wonderful sermons, articles, and debates on this topic. I’m not here to convince you one way or another. But I won’t be the teacher that goes through the book of Romans and skips chapters 9-11 out of fear of difficulty.
“he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” Ephesians 1:5-6
“What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—” Romans 9:22-23
These angels and men thus predestinated and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished.
This is just doubling down on God’s predestination. If God decreed this from the foundation of the world, He does not change His mind. He is immutable. Thus His decrees are certain.
Thank you for reading to the end. The next post will address the glories of God’s eternal decree of love for His saints.
Grace and peace,