God’s Acts of Providence (47)

photo-by-hrishikesh-karambelkarflickrMeditation on God’s Providence (4)

God’s Eternal Decree

One of the primary revelations in doing this study is that the issue of God’s sovereignty, including the Doctrine of Predestination, arises unavoidably in the very first half of the Bible’s very first Book!  Prior to this I’d considered the issue to be one that lurked in the background in the Old Testament and broke out into the open in the New.  No more.

As we look back over the lives of Abraham and Sarah we see God’s unyielding, sovereign determination to bless all nations on earth through the descendents of a particular man and woman.  Yet, this couple weaves a path full of decisions and consequences that are presented as the story of morally responsible entities interacting with the Holy God.  Thus, though the end is sure, their wills appear to influence, even control, the means by which the process plays out.

How can we square this all with the Doctrine of Predestination?  This question must be answered because I write as an ordained Elder of the Presbyterian Church who has answered in the affirmative to the following question (Book of Order, Paragraph G-14.0207, c).

Do you sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church as authentic and reliable expositions of what Scripture leads us to believe and do, and will you be instructed and led by those confessions as you lead the people of God?

And just what does this doctrine teach?  I will quote just the first paragraph from the The Westminster Confession of Faith on “Of God’s Eternal Decree,” for it implies the full scope and power of this difficult doctrine.[i]

  1. God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass;[1] yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin;[2] nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.[3]

My first response is that I can no more claim competence to sort out this issue than could a first grade math pupil to explain the concepts of multivariable calculus.  Yet, as a student of God’s Word who is called to seek all possible understanding for use as doctrinal and moral compass, some attempt must be made.

To begin, let there be no doubt that God’s will is utterly sovereign.  For example, even when it appears that Abraham is bargaining with the LORD on His way to Sodom, there is no doubt that the end that was ordained from the very beginning would come to pass.  Yet, as we have noted above, humans are apparently treated as responsible moral beings.  All of this is in line with the Confession, and yet still has the feel of utter contradiction.

To bring it to a sharp point, how can it be simultaneously true that:

  1. God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass, and:
  2. nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures.

That both are affirmed as true ensures that we take with the greatest seriousness the issues of our wills, that is, our thoughts, actions and desires.  The problem remains, though, as to just how this all works in practice.  Here we enter realms so far beyond human wisdom that all who have deeply and honestly engaged have come to the place where they can only say that beyond this point is the unfathomable mystery of the infinite God’s mind.

But prior to that we come to the point where the only hope of progress is through the assistance of allegory.  Many have been used, and I will attempt one as well.  Chances are that others have used a similar argument given the long, vexing history of this true doctrine.  I simply state that it represents my best current and feeble attempt to reconcile the truths that are found in Holy Scripture.

It’s my hope, dear reader, that the Holy Spirit will move you to consider this terrible, fraught issue with me as one of the mysteries that we try to understand but in which we will always fall short.

[1] Eph. 1:11; Acts 4:27, 28; Matt. 10:29, 30; Eph. 2:10.

[2] James 1:13; I John 1:5.

[3] Acts 2:23; Matt. 17:12; Acts 4:27, 28; John 19:11; Prov. 16:33; Acts 27:23, 24, 34, 44.

[i] Predestination: Of God’s Eternal Decree (Biblical footnote references omitted)

  1. 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.
  2. Although God knows 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.
  3. By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others fore-ordained to everlasting death.
  4. These angels and men, thus predestinated and fore-ordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed; and their number is so certain and definite that it cannot be either increased or diminished.
  5. Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to his eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of his will, hath chosen in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of his free grace and love alone, without any foresight of faith or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving him thereunto; and all to the praise of his glorious grace.
  6. As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath he, by the eternal and most free purpose of his will, fore-ordained all the means thereunto. Wherefore they who are elected being fallen in Adam are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ by his Spirit working in due season; are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by his power through faith unto salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.
  7. The rest of mankind, God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of his own will, whereby he extendeth or withholdeth mercy as he pleaseth, for the glory of his sovereign power over his creatures, to pass by, and to ordain them to dishonour and wrath for their sin, to the praise of his glorious justice.
  8. The doctrine of this high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care, that men attending the will of God revealed in his Word, and yielding obedience thereunto, may, from the certainty of their effectual vocation, be assured of their eternal election. 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.



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