Q14. How doth God execute his decrees?
Answer: God executeth his decrees in the works of creation and providence, according to his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will.
Reference: Eph. 1:11
Once more we can stand in awe as the Divines put forward one simple text, then upon that foundation lay a work of tremendous height, that sings of the glory of God, as it declares Him the Sovereign of all. How we could wish that the church throughout the ages had such confidence in the Word of God. “. . . who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will” (Eph. 1:11). We can be assured no modern has such an understanding of the word “all” and we would be treated at this point with several pages for the possible meaning the “writer” of Ephesians had in using this word in this way.
We could perhaps rightly enter into a discussion of the scholarship of the past and that of the present day. We would lose by a league. The generations of the reformation had a command of language that in its simplicity removed debate, and left all who would argue as mere cavilers before the Sovereign God of the universe. I dare say few today would word this question or answer in this way, and still fewer would dare make such a bold proclamation from “only” one proof- text. We seem to have forgotten that the beginning of wisdom is the fear of God. But then, we don’t fear anything, even God. My very soul cries out as I see those who would profess to be of God, with such abandon make use of His Holy Word as if it were no more than an ancient work of man.
Which of us would have chosen the word execute? Yet no other word properly describes what God has, is, and will do until in His own time, He calls the end to the world as we know it. To take the words of this answer and sit with dictionary in hand and contemplate each is a worthy exercise.
We will deal with creation and providence at length in the following questions. At the moment I want to draw our attention to the later half of the answer. The Divines as their Dutch predecessors a scant twenty plus years before, were careful not to give ground to the error of Arminian theology. So while we can appreciate the straight forward manner in which they reveal this divine truth, I would again caution all in the use of “foreknowledge, without making sure the proper foundation is in place and the intended audience has the theological aptitude to understand how the foreknowledge of God as used here has absolutely nothing to do with election. The divines qualify this usage with the word “free.” In that God was not bound in any way to act in a predetermined way because of His perfect foreknowledge. Any other way and we have left room for the profane to clip away the second petal of the TULIP, as there can never be any doubt that the election was not “earned” by what the sinner has done or that God foresaw them doing in the future. We also encounter the word immutable here once more. God’s decrees being unchangeable binds the fifth petal to its foundation in Scripture. What God has begun, God cannot but bring to completion.
As we have seen in the treatment of the decrees of God in these three questions, the decrees are primarily concerned with election. Though all of the creation is listed, and this is not a side issue, angels and men are the height of God’s creation, therefore it is only fitting that the focus of the decrees are toward them. Dr. J. B. Green in his “Harmony of the Westminster Standards” chose to group this question with Chapter four of the “Confession” and questions 14 – 17 of the LC under creation. As noted the decrees indeed do have application to all of creation and I would again caution us not to look at the word of God to try and separate “each and every” word that can be considered a divine decree from the whole. In speaking of the Decalogue in his short work entitled “The Ten Commandments” G. Campbell Morgan wrote, “In the close of the Book of Ecclesiastes, the preacher says ‘This is the end of the matter; all have been heard: fear God, and keep His commandments; for this is the whole of man’ (Ecc.12:13). Not ‘the whole duty of man,’ as it was in the Authorized Version, but the ‘whole of man.’ That is to say, if a man fear God and keep His commandments, he is a whole man. Judged by this standard, how many are there that are not whole men?” So it is, we must be careful to not be caught up in the bright light of one portion of the Holy Writ, but give attention to all. “. . . but every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” was the answer of our Lord when shown such lofty heights designed of hell to entrap the souls of the unwary. So the divine truth prevails and all of the creation is sustained by God’s eternal decrees. This is not the same as providence which we shall see in the proper place is the ordering of these decrees and the resultant secondary causes proceeding therefrom, to bring about God’s perfect and holy will.
“. . . counsel of His own will.” surely none would dare to consider any but the Godhead Itself capable of holding counsel with God to bring about change to that which is perfection itself. As I watch the world rave about itself, and man once more dream of building its modern towers of Babble, daring to profane the Word of God in declaring it to condone evil, and permit perversion of the species I cannot but remember the story of Job. Surely if any ever had cause to seek direct counsel with God, it was Job. Yet throughout we see Job declare God sovereign, and God never condescend to explain His actions. God speaks of paths in the sea, and the feeding and care of various wild life, but never explains Himself. God is sovereign! God has spoken, His voice is an eternal decree to which all of creation must bow in obedience. What comfort then are the words of Paul “. . . all things work for good to those who love God, who are called according to His purpose” (Rom.8:28). If God’s every word is less than the eternal truth, these too are but empty and vain words. Thus our beloved faith so vividly and soundly proclaimed in the TULIP stands continuously before the throne of God, safe from all attacks. Yet, along with the reformers and both Dort and the Westminster Divines let us not detract from the beauty of the decrees as they apply to angels and men, brought to fruit in the work of creation and continuing in providence.
Dr. Chuck Baynard