Of God’s Decree
God’s Decree as it is described in Chapter 3 of the 1689 London Baptist Confession. Paragraph 1 reads as follows:
“yet so as thereby is God neither the author of sin nor hath fellowship with any therein; 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;”
Several pressing questions are addressed in these words.
Does God Decree Sin?
Does this make God the author of sin? The Confession flatly and clearly asserts that it does not. Though sin is, of course, included in God’s decree, God is not the author of sin. In the decree of God, it is creatures angels and men that author or commit sin. The Bible makes clear that God’s motives in decreeing sin are entirely different than those of the creatures who commit or author sin.
He decrees sin to happen for His own glory. They commit it to deny His glory.
He decrees sin in order to use it to redeem His people. In the case of Joseph, we are told that the sin of his brothers was over-ruled for good. Genesis 50:20 says: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” God also decreed the death of Jesus by the hands of sinful men (Acts 2 and 4), but this was for the sake of the redemption of men from sin.
Sometimes also He decrees sin as a just punishment for previous sin. David numbered Israel because of God’s decree to punish Israel and David for sin. Cf. 2 Sam. 24:1; 1 Chron. 21:1. The sons of Eli refused to repent because God has decreed to put them to death for their sins (1 Sam. 2:25.
Yes, there remains a deep mystery in regard to God’s decree of sin, but the Bible plainly teaches that He is not the author of sin. James 1:13 is the key text: “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.”
Does God’s Decree Destroy Man’s Will?
The confession then addresses a second question related to the universality of God’s decree.
Does this not destroy the liberty, responsibility, and significance of the wills of men and angels? The Confession denies that it does, and in fact affirms that on the contrary, it is God’s decree that establishes these things:
“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.”
Obviously, the Confession is not working with the same definition of free will that most people affirm. Free will is not the ability to act contrary to God’s decree. Free will is not the ability to act contrary to one’s nature. Free will is simply the ability to will whatever one wants and act on that will to accomplish that want without external constraints. When someone wills what he wants, he is at liberty, he is responsible, and his will is significant. Creaturely will actually accomplishes things and does so freely and responsibly. All of this is asserted by Scripture in Matthew 17:12: “but I say to you that Elijah already came, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they wished. So also the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.”
What should we think of all this? How should we respond to this doctrine of God’s universal decree? The Confession concludes paragraph 1 by telling us: “in which appears his wisdom in disposing all things, and power and faithfulness in accomplishing his decree.” God was wise to order and in ordering all things by His decree, and if we wait on Him and the development of His plan, we will see it. God’s power is displayed in this mighty plan. We should worship His majesty. God’s faithfulness to His people and to Himself is also revealed in the accomplishment of His decree. Job 23:13 says it: “But He is unique and who can turn Him? And what His soul desires, that He does.” His soul desires our good and His glory and nothing shall deter Him in the accomplishment of His eternal good pleasure.
Dr. Sam Waldron is the Academic Dean of CBTS and professor of Systematic Theology. He is also one of the pastors of Grace Reformed Baptist Church in Owensboro, KY. Dr. Waldron received a B.A. from Cornerstone University, an M.Div. from Trinity Ministerial Academy, a Th.M. from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. From 1977 to 2001 he was a pastor of the Reformed Baptist Church of Grand Rapids, MI. Dr. Waldron is the author of numerous books including A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, The End Times Made Simple, Baptist Roots in America, To Be Continued?, and MacArthur’s Millennial Manifesto: A Friendly Response.