IN THIS STUDY WE want to consider the purposes of God. His
purposes are found in His decrees. The decrees of God relating to
evil and the salvation of men are widely disputed. But the
problems cannot be solved by mere human reason. A diligent study
of the Scriptures is the only method of determining the truth on the
The Definition Of The Decrees
Most problems in understanding the decrees of God disappear with a
proper understanding of their nature. They are not inconsistent
with man's free moral agency; they do not take away all motives for
human effort; and they certainly do not make God the author of
sin. All of this becomes clear as we study the Scriptures.
The answers begin to become apparent from a proper definition of the
decrees. The definition: "the decrees of God are His eternal
purpose or purposes, based on His most wise and holy counsel, whereby
He freely and unchangeably, for His own glory, ordained, either
efficaciously or permissively, all that comes to pass." (In
a real sense all things are embraced in one purpose, as we shall
see). Let's analyze this definition briefly to determine just
what it ays.
First of all, the decrees are God's eternal purpose. God does
not progressively make His plans or alter them as human history
develops; He determined them in eternity and they remain
unaltered. Secondly, God's decrees are based on His most wise and
holy counsel. He is omniscient and so knows what is best; He is
absolutely holy and so cannot purpose anything that is wrong.
Thirdly, the decrees originate in God's freedom. He purposes of
His own volition, without constraint, if He purposes at all. The
only necessity laid upon Him in this respect is the necessity that
comes from His own attributes as a wise and holy God. We can know
only by revelation from God what it is that He has purposed.
Fourthly, the decrees have as their end the glory of God. They do
not primarily aim at the happiness of the creature, although this is
included in His aims, but at the glory of God who is absolute
Efficacious And Permissive Decrees
Fifthly, there are two kinds of decrees: efficacious and permissive.
There are things which God purposed that He also determines
efficaciously or effectively TO BRING ABOUT. There are other
things which He merely determines TO PERMIT. But even in the case
of the permissive decrees, He overrules all for His own glory.
And, finally, the decrees embrace all that comes to pass. They
include all the past, the present, and the future; they embrace the
things which He efficaciously brings about and the things which He
merely permits. Surely, this concept of the decrees of God removes most
of the difficulties that are often associated with them.
The Proof Of The Decrees
The events in the universe are neither a surprise nor a
disappointment to God. The teaching of the Scriptures is that
the things that come to pass on earth are not the result of God's
capriciousness or arbitrary will, but they are the outcome of a
definite purpose and plan of God. Listen: "Jehovah of hosts
hath sworn, saying, surely, as I have thought, so shall it come to
pass; and as I have purposed, so shall it stand...."
"This is the purpose that is purposed upon the whole earth; and
this is the hand that is stretched out upon all the nations. For
Jehovah of hosts hath purposed, and who shall annul it? and his hand is
stretched out, and who shall turn it back?" (Isaiah
14:21,26,27); "...Making known unto us the mystery of His
will, according to his good pleasure which he purposed in him... in
whom also we were made a heritage, having been foreordained according
to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his
will (Ephesians 1:9,11; 3:11).
Someone has said, "A universe without decrees would be as
irrational and appalling as would be an express train driving on in the
darkness without headlight or engineer, and with no certainty that the
next moment it might not plunge into the abyss."
The decrees of God are sometimes represented as one decree.
"Called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28);
"having been foreordained according to the purpose of him who
worketh all things after the counsel of his will" (Ephesians
1:11). In each case it is one purpose. Though to us the degrees
appear to be many purposes, to the divine mind they are in reality but
one great all-inclusive purpose. That is why we can speak of a
universe, rather than a "multi-verse".
They are always represented as eternal. "According to the
eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord"
(Ephesians 3:11); "foreknown indeed before the foundation of the
world, but manifested at the end of the times" (1 Peter 1:20);
"the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Revelation
13:8 A.V.); "whose name hath not been written from the foundation
of the world m the book of life of the Lamb that hath been slain"
(Revelation 13:8 A.S.V.); "even as he chose us in him before the
foundation of the world" (Ephesians 1:4); "according to his
own purpose and grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus before
times eternal" (2 Timothy 1:9); and "in hope of eternal life,
which God, who cannot lie, promised before times eternal" (Titus
1:2). It is quite clear that the things decreed come to pass in
time, and in successive series; but they constitute one great system
which as one whole and a unity was comprehended in one eternal purpose
The Bases Of God's Decrees
A great deal of light is shed upon this subject by a clear
understanding of the bases on which God's decrees rest. Why did
God decree at all? Why was He not content to confine His
fellowship and activity to the Godhead? We are far from claiming
to know the whole answer to this profound question; but there are some
things that have been revealed, and these we may know. Moses
says: "The secret things belong unto Jehovah our God ; but the
things that are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever,
that we may do all the words of this law" (Deuteronomy 29:29).
Let us emphasize the fact, that the decrees of God did not originate
in external necessity. God did not have to decree anything, nor
was He limited by anything outside of Himself in making the
decrees. In reality, there was nothing outside of God to
influence Him at the time when He made them. What He decreed He
decreed freely, voluntarily. We would also emphasize the fact
that they are not due to mere caprice or arbitrary will. God does
not act from mere emotional impulse; He always acts rationally.
He may not always announce His reasons for decreeing one thing instead
of another, but we are assured that there are always reasons. The
expression, "Thou shalt know hereafter" in John 13:3 is an
encouragement to us that we shall some day understand the meaning of
certain puzzling Scriptures and the mysteries of certain perplexing
Neither does God exercise an arbitrary will. Some have taught
that there is no criterion of value that determines God's will. A
thing is right because God wills it, but if this is true, then the
death of Christ is also not necessitated by any inner principle in God,
but merely by God's choice. So, if God had willed to save man
without the death of Christ, He could have justly done so. On the
contrary, we repeat, the decrees of God are based on His most wise and
holy counsel. Being all-wise, knowing the end from the beginning,
knowing that sin would come (since He had decided to permit it to
come), knowing what would be the nature of sin and how He would have to
deal with it if He were to save anyone, He based His plans on all His
knowledge and understanding. Being perfectly holy, and incapable
of partiality or unfairness, He made His plans according to that which
is absolutely right. He can save the sinner only if in doing so
He can remain absolutely just (read Romans 3:25). It is on
the basis of His nature, His wisdom, and holiness, then, that He has
made the decrees, both those that are efficacious and those that are
The End Of The Decrees
What end did God have in view in making the decrees? What was
His fundamental reason for purposing and undertaking to do
anything? Is there an end, an object to the universe? If
so, what is it? We would say, negatively, that it is not
primarily the happiness nor the holiness of the creature, although God
does seek to promote the happiness of His creatures. Paul said at
Lystra: "He left not himself without witness, in that he did good
and gave you from heaven rains and fruitful seasons, filling your
hearts with food and gladness" (Acts 14:17). And in his
letter to Timothy: "Who giveth us richly all things to enjoy"
(1 Timothy 6:17). Paul regarded the abstinent principles of the
Gnostics, who said: "Handle not, nor taste, nor touch," as
"the precepts and doctrines of men" (Colossians 1:21, 22),
which have "a show of wisdom in will-worship, and humility, and
severity to the body; but are not of any value against the indulgence
of the flesh" (Colossians 1:23). Yes, God seeks to promote
the happiness of man, even the so-called outward happiness. But
don't forget that MAN'S HAPPINESS IS NOT GOD'S PRIMARY END IN HIS
DECREES; IT IS BUT A SECONDARY END.
God is certainly concerned to promote the holiness of His creatures.
To prove this we need only remind ourselves of the fact that "the
new man... after God is created in righteousness and true
holiness" (Ephesians 4:24). He admonished man to be holy as
He is holy (Leviticus 11:44); He gave him His holy law as the standard
of life (Romans 7:12); Christ died that he might sanctify His people
(Ephesians 5:25-27); and the Holy Spirit came to bring the message of
regeneration and sanctification of men (John 3:5; 1 Peter 1:2).
Surely, God seeks to promote the sanctification of the creature.
But holiness, too, is not the highest end of God.
The Glory Of God
The highest aim of His decrees is the glory of God. Creation
glorifies Him. David said, "The heavens declare the glory of
God; and the firmament showeth his handiwork" (Psalms 19:1).
God says He will refine Israel in the furnace of affliction and adds,
"For mine own sake, for mine own sake, will I do it; for how
should my name be profaned? and my glory will I not give to
another" (Isaiah 48:11). Paul says, God has made "known the
riches of his glory upon vessels of mercy, which he afore prepared unto
glory" (Romans 9:23), and that He has foreordained believers
"to the praise of the glory of his grace" (Ephesians 1:6;
2:8-10). And the twenty-four elders cast their crowns before
God's throne and say: "Worthy art thou, our Lord and our God, to
receive the glory and the honor and the power: for thou didst create
all things, and because of thy will they were, and were created"
(Revelation 4:11). We say, then, that the end of all things is
the glory of God; and only as we also adopt this as our real goal in
life are we living on the highest plane and in full harmony with the
purposes of God.
Pride And Selfishness
The question arises: How can God make this the end of the decrees?
Does He not manifest pride and selfishness in doing so? To think
in this way is to forget who God is. In man it would be
selfishness to seek for his own glory, because man is sinful and
imperfect, and to seek for his own glory would be to seek to glorify
sinfulness and imperfection. But this is not the case with
God. He is absolutely sinless and perfect in holiness. He
is the only one who is. For Him to aim at His own glory is,
therefore, merely to seek the glory of absolute holiness and sinless
perfection. There is no one and nothing higher to glorify.
It seems that necessity is laid upon God, and in turn upon us, to aim
in everything to glorify Him who is the manifestation of all goodness,
purity, wisdom, and truth.
[More next time, Lord willing. -- R.N.]