The doctrine of God’s decree is a doctrine, as it comprehends divine sovereignty and the “high mystery of predestination” and “eternal election” (2LCF 3.7), that is to rouse humility on the part of the Christian, affording him “matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God” (2LCF 3.7).
In confessing “God’s decree” we are asserting, simply, that “God wills and orders all things.” Our Confession of faith articulates it with the language that “God hath decreed in himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably, all things, whatsoever comes to pass” (2LCF 3.1). The triune God of chapter 2, the one who is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in all His glorious perfections, has decreed from all eternity the beginning, middle, and end of “all things.” This should cause us to wonder at, and to ponder, at least three things: First – the sovereignty of God over all things; second – the general fact that he has decreed all things; and, third – that he has specially decreed the salvation of His elect by and through the perfect mediatorial work of the Son of God incarnate, Jesus Christ.
First, God has sovereignty over all things. This speaks to God’s supreme power and unqualified authority, by virtue of the simple fact that He is God. He is “most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of His own immutable and most righteous will” (2LCF 2.1). He is not contained in, nor constrained by, a universe of conditions and laws outside of himself that require him to be and to act in this or that way. Much to the contrary, as the one whose “subsistence is in and of Himself, infinite in being and perfection” (2:1) and who is “alone in and unto Himself all-sufficient” (2LCF 2.2) God has “most sovereign dominion over all creatures, to do by them, for them, or upon them, whatsoever [He] pleases” (2LCF 2.2). This last statement is a good definition of divine sovereignty – God, in His unrivalled divine preeminence over all that is not God, has power and authority to do what he pleases, and always according to His perfect wisdom and holiness. The bible everywhere declares this, and it is captured concisely by the psalmist when he writes: “But our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases” (Psalm 115:3).
Second, God has decreed all things, not just some things. The Arminians and Socinians of the 16th and 17th centuries asserted (and some in our own day assert), contrary to the Reformed understanding, that God’s eternal decree does not include all things that come to pass. The Scripture, however, as the Reformed acknowledge, clearly speaks to God’s decree of all things when it reads that He “declares the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done” (Isa. 46:10), and that He “works all things according to the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11). God’s decree is all-encompassing, with nothing falling outside of His will and purpose. This truth, while it is to be handled “with special prudence and care” (3:7), is to humble us before the majesty of our triune God, and it is to be a matter for great Christian comfort. There is nothing that is outside of the sovereign control of our blessed God – Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer.
Third, if God has decreed all things, then He has decreed the salvation of His elect through the perfect saving work of the Lord Jesus Christ. This brings to the fore the doctrines of election and predestination, which are grounded in God’s “eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of His will,” and which flow from “His mere free grace and love” (2LCF 3.5). This confessional acknowledgement, drawn from Scripture (for examples, Ephesians 1:3-14), asserts that from first, to last, midst and throughout, it is the triune God who alone saves sinners. Our Confession, summarizing the theological conclusions of the bible, opposes any system of salvation that supposes a god who “looks down the tunnel of time” to see who would choose according to their own free will, then predestinates unto salvation those who will “choose wisely.” Such a conception would make man’s will and power primary in the matter of salvation. However, the bible is clear when it states that salvation is “not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy,” (Romans 9:16) and that God “chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world…according to the good pleasure of His will” (Ephesians 1:4, 5). Our Confession, asserting divine exclusivity in the matter of man’s salvation, declares that those chosen in Christ, of God’s “mere free grace and love,” are such “without any other thing in the creature as a condition or cause moving [God] thereunto” (2LCF 3.5).
We glory in God for His eternal lovingkindness, that, in His amazing grace and according to the perfection of His free will and immutable purpose, He chose us to be the inheritors of eternal life through the work of His Son, Jesus Christ. And, we should rejoice that God has also foreordained all the means whereby we come to a knowledge of His Son, reflecting on the fact that through the preaching of the Word and the power of the Holy Spirit working with it we were brought from the darkness and deadness of sin to light and life in our precious Savior.