Q13. What hath God especially decreed concerning angels and men?
Answer: God, by an eternal and immutable decree, out of his mere love, for the praise of his glorious grace, to be manifested in due time, hath elected some angels to glory, and in Christ hath chosen some men to eternal life, and the means thereof: and also, according to his sovereign power, and the unsearchable counsel of his own will, (whereby he extendeth or withholdeth favor as he pleaseth,) hath passed by and foreordained the rest to dishonor and wrath, to be for their sin inflicted, to the praise of the glory of his justice.
References: 1 Tim. 5:21; Eph. 1:4-6; 2 Thess. 2:13-14; Rom. 9:17-18, 21-22; Mt. 11:25-26; 2 Tim.2:20; Jude 4; 1 Pet.2:8
The Divines chose the words “immutable” and “eternal” to introduce the decree of election, and election is the subject before us. Immutable, though seldom heard outside theological discussions today means “unchanging.” In other words, God has spoken and this cannot be changed. Eternal being added then to reinforce this unchangeable decree to indicate there will be no future circumstance whereby God will change this decree. The church (Reformed or otherwise) only stands as long as God is sovereign. A sovereign cannot have need to change a decree, or he isn’t “perfect.” The most vivid example of this in my mind comes from the biblical story of Esther. Many have picked points to cavil about through the years with this explanation, but nonetheless, I find it to be the best analogy for us mere mortals to grasp and thereby understand the reason why God must be immutable not only in His decrees, but everything He says or does.
In the story of Esther an earthly king has made a decree. The fact that he was deceived, or tricked into issuing the edict does not matter. He cannot simply repeal his edit or he has “proven” himself capable of error and thereby “unrighteous” (unjust). His solution is to issue another edit, but he never rescinded the original. This standard was in place in Eastern kingdoms as far back as we have recorded history. It is easy then to see that the Word of God as the ultimate sovereign cannot change, ever, or He is no longer God.
In this sense then, every thing that God says must be perfect and righteous. For this cause Jesus said I have not come to destroy the law but fulfill, and not one jot nor tittle will pass away. Divine words whether in the form of an eternal decree or not, will stand forever. From this, surely we can see then that indeed the decrees of God are eternal and immutable, and in this closer focus, not subject to even the fulfillment that Christ brought to the Old testament Law.
Here then we have the grounds for the so called “Theonomist” of today’s church. They hold, and I believe rightly so, that the laws of the Old Testament have an ethical application for today. Christ said no less when He said search the Scriptures for they speak of me. It is a “divine” word, and cannot pass from history. In this sense we are all Theonomists or we are “antinomian” (law breakers). However like all things in the hands of man this has been carried to extremes by some who demand the Mosaic law be applied today, both to the church and civil government without any change; whereby adultery is a capital offense for example. As a general rule of thumb, all extremes are bad and this is no exception.
I am somewhat amused at the Divine’s choice of God’s reason for making these decrees, “out of his mere love.” I would like to have had the opportunity to have sat in on the full discussion of this passage. Yet, how else can one measure any single attribute of God, compared to the whole? Though I believe what the Divines were trying to point out was that God did this out of love and not because of any hidden agenda so to speak, nor because of the use of His divine foreknowledge, whereby it could be thought some in some other way earned their salvation. We see this developed more completely in the conclusion of this sentence, “for the praise of His glorious grace.” Again we see it as a free of anything except the unsearchable will of God (grace), as God holds true to Himself whereby the purpose of all creation was for His glory. This consistency in the presentation of one doctrine (precept) after another without a single break in the unity of the whole has only been surpassed by the Holy Spirit in the writing of the Bible itself. While others who hold to another of the Reformed confessions may make the same claim, I don’t think any covered the full scope of theology as completely as the Westminster Divines.
In this answer we find most of the elements of the TULIP once more rising from the testimony of Scripture to show God’s glory and radiance in the ordering of salvation for the elect and condemnation for the rest. Passages like this cause one to stop and wonder how any could deny the truth of God underlying either of these classic points of Reformed theology. Depravity being first established, whereby all have sinned and came short of the glory of God makes Limited atonement and punishment of the sinner a thing of glorious righteousness, brought to perfection by the same love and grace that chose the elect to be glorified. The Tulip only points to the perfection of God in all areas, including justice and wrath. How we all gather to ourselves the words love and grace, but try so desperately to close out justice and wrath from our minds. For a Holy God must also be a Just God. And here we have come full circle, a Just God must have then eternal and unchangeable decrees! So the doctrine of the decrees of God flow as a necessity from there being a God.
This only leaves one point to cover briefly in this treatment of such a great work as the Divines handed us in question thirteen; namely “the means thereof.” What a fantastic God we serve who has never required from us anything He did not first furnish to us. Thereby, the means for entry into His eternal presence in glory, were provided; the Word, preaching, sacraments, and discipline of His church. I have used some liberty here as traditionally the word of God and sacraments have been used as the Reformed view of the “means of grace.” However by word it was understood to include preaching of both the law and gospel. I have chosen first to present the Word as Scripture, then the practices of the church that are a natural outflow of this Word put into practice. I included the church, meaning the true church of God whereby all the other means are given a visible manifestation in this world, and the last addition of discipline for judgment begins in the house of God and as such is a grace bestowed upon believers.
Dr. Chuck Baynard