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?
- God hath decreed in himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably, 1 all things, whatsoever comes to pass; 2 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 established; 4 in which appears his wisdom in disposing all things, and power and faithfulness in accomplishing his decree. 5
- Prov. 19:21; Isa 14:24-27; 46:10-11; Ps. 115:3; 135:6; Rom. 9:19; Heb. 6:17
- Dan. 4:34-35; Rom. 8:28; 11:36; Eph. 1:11
- Gen. 18:25; James 1:13; 1 John 1:5
- Gen. 50:20; 2 Sam. 24:1; Isa. 10:5-7; Matt. 17:12; John 19:11; Acts 2:23; 4:27-28
- 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 it 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 hindered 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 th...