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"Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God." - Jonathan Edwards

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1689 Baptist Confession Chapter 3: Of God's Decree - Commentary

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Chapter 3: Of God's Decree

What does it mean that God is sovereign? Does God control all things? Does God ordain and is sovereign even over sin? What about election? Does God choose who goes to Heaven and who goes to Hell? Did God predestine because He saw what was going to come to pass? Does it matter what we do? Does God ordain the ends as well as the means?


§1 God hath decreed in himself, from all eternity...whatsoever comes to pass

  1. God hath decreed in himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably1 all things, whatsoever comes to pass2 yet so as thereby is God neither the author of sin nor hath fellowship with any therein; 3 nor is violence offered to the will of the creature, nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather establishedin which appears his wisdom in disposing all things, and power and faithfulness in accomplishing his decree. 5
    1. Prov. 19:21; Isa 14:24-27; 46:10-11; Ps. 115:3; 135:6; Rom. 9:19; Heb. 6:17[1]
    2. Dan. 4:34-35; Rom. 8:28; 11:36; Eph. 1:11
    3. Gen. 18:25; James 1:13; 1 John 1:5
    4. Gen. 50:20; 2 Sam. 24:1; Isa. 10:5-7; Matt. 17:12; John 19:11; Acts 2:23; 4:27-28
    5. Num. 23:19; Eph. 1:3-5

God hath decreed in Himself means that He decreed by Himself alone without considering others. As the modern translation puts it: “From all eternity God decreed everything that occurs, without reference to anything outside himself.” He was not influenced when He decreed everything. But what does mean that God “decreed”? A decree, in this context, means putting everything in order and planning everything that is to occur in history. This decree of God was from all eternity and therefore is unchangeable. To further stress the “decreed in himself” part, the Confession adds that this decree was made freely. God was not limited by anything outside Himself. Furthermore, this decree was according to the most wise and holy counsel of His own will. It was not arbitrary or random. Rather, it was ordained by the Wisdom Himself Who does nothing without a goal, reason or a purpose (cf. Eph. 1:11). What did God decree? All things, whatsoever comes to pass. There is nothing that occurs that was not already decreed by God from all eternity. But this does not mean that God is the author of sin nor hath fellowship with any therein. God does not create sin or author it, nor does He have delight in it. Rather, He orders it and ordains it to be for His own holy purposes, according to the most wise and holy counsel of His will. Even evil and sin are ordained according to His holy purposes. Our redemption came about by the greatest sin committed by man, the crucifixion of the Son of God, which was ordained by God (Acts 4:27-28).

When God ordains sin, He does no violence to the will of the creature, nor is their liberty hundred or taken away. Everyone committing sin and evil does so because they will and desire so. In the example about the crucifixion of the Lord, everyone in the act was a willing participant: Judas, the Jewish leaders, the Romans. All really wanted to do these things and they were not forced to will so. Nonetheless, the Scriptures are clear that they came to “do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” According to Reformed theology, God's decree establishes the liberty of creatures, because their liberty is found within God's decree. This high and mysterious doctrine shows the wi...


1689 Baptist Confession Chapter 5: Of Divine Providence - Commentary

...rothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Gen. 50:20). God “meaning’ was good, while the brothers’ was “evil” all the while it concerned the event of selling Joseph to slavery. It was one action or event with two different motives and purposes. The brothers were not excused because they were carrying God's decree. Their intention is still called “evil” and this sinfulness came from them and not from God.


Even over the Fall of Adam and Satan, God had absolute sovereignty and Predetermination. It didn't catch God by a surprise. In fact, He was expecting it by creating Adam as a type of Christ (Rom. 5:14) and electing a people to be holy and blameless, which would presuppose that they were not holy and blameless, in Christ (Eph. 1:3-6). While there is a lot of speculation how the Fall exactly occurred, or how sin entered the world, God's sovereignty over it should not and cannot be denied based on everything we see in Scripture. God is sovereign over every single sin and He has so ordained that they exist, yet He is not to be charged with unrighteousness, but the creature is to be charged with wickedness. He ordains all sins for the glory of His Name and not for the sake of "free will." Again, I refer you back to chapter 3 and the brief case for God's sovereignty over evil there.

God does not merely permit sinful actions, but He decrees that they exist and happen. The greatest example of this is the cross of Christ (Acts 2:23; 4:26-28), which we discussed in chapter 3. Sometimes the language of permission is used by Calvinists to speak of God's relation to sin and evil, but our intention in such a language is not to say that God does not will it, but to separate the holiness of God and the sinfulness of the actions which men do. For non-Calvinists, the idea of permission is often used to imply that God in some way is not pleased or does not will the actions to happen, but He does not want to interfere with human (libertarian) free will, so as not to destroy (true) freedom. But generally, I would speak of God decreeing sin and evil, as that is what I believe the Scripture teaches, for His own glory, while He nevertheless remains pure and sinless, unstained by sin and evil. Lamar Martin, in his exposition of this chapter, comments on this phrase, “bare permission”, saying:

The point being that the sinful actions of angels and men are not in a passive way simply allowed by God, but rather God is actively directing, disposing, and governing these sinful actions. God permits sin, yes, Acts 14, verse 16: “Who in the generations gone by allowed all nations to walk in their own ways.” But He does not simply sit back and permit sin; according to the Confession, He bounds it, that is, He limits it, He orders it, He governs it, and that to produce His most holy ends. And clearly God does limit sin.[4]

He does not permit or ordain evil for its sake, or to respect the “free will” of man, but rather, He ordains and decrees evil for the good which He purposes it to bring and the judgment which He will bring upon it, and thus display the glory of His justice. If God would have willed sin for the sake of sin, it would have been a blemish on His character. But for God to will sin for the sake of the good intended, it is a manifestation of His infinite wisdom and sovereignty.


§5 Leave for a season his own children to manifold temp...