The Place of this Concept In Dogmatics.
We have now come, in our discussion of “our doctrine”, to the counsel of God. The place which this concept occupies in Dogmatics is important. Dogmatics we have defined as the systematic knowledge of God as based upon the Holy Scriptures. Until now we have discussed the knowledge of God, the Trinity, the Covenant, and the Attributes (incommunicable and communicable). We noticed that our conception of the Covenant is based not merely upon the definition of the word “covenant”, but upon the development of this truth as it occurs throughout Holy Writ. To be sure, also the word, “covenant”, appears in the Scriptures as referring to the eternal and heavenly relationship of living friendship between God and His people in Jesus Christ, our Lord. The word appears in this sense in passages in Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Hosea, and also in the Lord’s dealing with Abraham and Noah. Of this covenant, for example, the rainbow is a sign, and what is the rainbow but a sign of the breaking through of the sun of righteousness through the night of the darkness of our sin and guilt, and the righteous judgments of God? However, this covenant idea of a relationship of living friendship appears and is taught throughout the Word. Of tremendous importance in this connection is a passage such as . This text may surely be considered as a key passage in theWord of God. The Lord will establish enmity between the seed of the woman and that of the serpent. Enmity is essentially friendship, the friendship of the living God. That God will establish enmity certainly signifies that He will instill His friendship and love in the hearts of His own. And this will continue throughout the ages. Besides, we must note that the Lord will establish this enmity. Hence, the enmity between the seed of the woman and that of the devil, the friendship of the Church which causes that Church to be the party of the living God and that also over against the kingdom of darkness, is solely the work of Jehovah and is, therefore, strictly unilateral, one-sided, proceeds exclusively from the Lord. And, this is the teaching throughout the Word of God. The entire Old Dispensation appears in the symbol of the temple, God’s dwelling-place with His own. Heaven is described as the house of the Father with many mansions. And, furthermore, eternity is held before us in Holy Writ as the eternal tabernacle of God with man, in which the Lord will dwell with His redeemed and perfectly sanctified people in heavenly perfection and immortality. No truth can be higher than this relationship of living friendship with the alone blessed God, and this is presented in the Scriptures as being realized with the believers and their seed according to the eternal and divinely sovereign good pleasure of Jehovah.
We have, therefore, been discussing thus far the essence, being of God, the life of God Himself, not of course apart from the Scriptures, but as revealed unto us in the written Word of God. We are now ready to discuss the works of God as revealed in all His works, His works of creation and recreation. Before we proceed with this discussion, however, we must first inquire into the Counsel of God, the divine origin and cause of this revelation of the Lord in all the works of His hands.
The Importance of the Counsel of God.
The importance of the truth of the counsel of God is evident, first of all, from the fact that it is everywhere taught in Holy Writ. We will return to this Scriptural evidence in this series of articles. And, secondly, this concept is important because of the very nature of the subject. The Scriptural doctrine of God’s counsel or decrees maintains the absolute sovereignty of the Lord. Our conception of it determines our conception of God and, vice versa, our conception of the living God determines our conception of His counsel. If God be truly God, absolute and all-sufficient, His counsel must be maintained in the strictly sovereign, all-comprehensive, efficacious, irresistible, unconditional sense of the word. God and His counsel are one; as the Lord is, so is His decree. The history of the Church throughout the ages verifies the truth that an Arminian conception of man and salvation is always accompanied by a denial or silencing of the strictly sovereign character of election and reprobation—this can be readily discerned in the Roman Catholic-Lutheran-Remonstrant (Arminian) development of this truth as revealed in the Scriptures. We purpose to refer to this line in this series of articles on the divine decrees. It is not difficult to distinguish the Roman Catholic-Lutheran- Remonstrant development of this truth from the Pauline-Augustine-Gottschalk-Fathers of Dordrecht line of development of the same concept. Besides, the counsel of’ God is, of course, the origin of all things. This lies in the very nature of the case. Our conception of God’s counsel must, therefore, be of the greatest importance. If we err at the origin of our conception and thinking, we, must necessarily go astray in all our thinking and conceptions. And this applies, not only to an open denial and repudiation of God’s sovereign decrees, but also to a failure to accord it to its proper place in our preaching and instruction.
The Issue Defined.
We can speak, first of all, of the counsel of the Lord in the general sense of the word. When we speak of the counsel of God in general we refer to it in its broadest, all-comprehensive sense, as embracing all things. As such, the counsel of God refers to the eternal thoughts, wisdom, knowledge of God, whereby He eternally and sovereignly willed, foreordained, prescribed the existence and being and development of all things in heaven and on earth and in the waters under the earth, of the things rational and irrational, animate and inanimate, organic and inorganic, the life of man and beast, of tree and plant, of all things that move and are, of the entire creation.
This is everywhere the teaching of Holy Writ. On the one hand, the Old Testament abounds in eulogizing the counsel of God. The Lord, e.g., is the Creator of all things, and, therefore, the Architect of the universe. He created, sustains, governs all things by His word and with wisdom—“By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth”—; “O Lord, how manifold are Thy works! in wisdom hast Thou made them all: the earth is full of Thy riches.”—, Who ; “Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and saidis this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou Me. Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding. Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest: or who hath stretched the line upon it? Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof; When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? Or who shut up the sea with doors, when it brake forth, as if it had issued out of the womb?” f.f.-d, as in . Emphatically the Scriptures declare that God knows the things that shall be and announces them beforehan : “Sing, O ye heavens; for the Lord hath done it; shout, ye lower parts of the earth: break forth into singing, ye mountains, O forest, and every tree therein: for the Lord hath redeemed Jacob, and glorified Himself in Israel. Thus saith the Lord, thy Redeemer, and He that formed thee from the womb, I am the Lord that maketh all things: that stretcheth forth the heavens alone; that spreadeth abroad the earth by Myself in : “Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare: before they spring forth I tell you of them.”—in ord; and beside Me there is no Savior : “Let them bring them forth, and shew us what shall happen: let them shew the former things, what they be, that we may consider them, and know the latter end of them; or declare us things for to come. Shew the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that ye are gods: yea, do good, or do evil, that we may be dismayed, and behold it together.”—in : “Let all the nations be gathered together, and let the people be assembled: who among them can declare this, and shew us former things? let them bring forth their witnesses, that they may be justified: or let them hear, and say, It is truth. Ye are My witnesses, saith the Lord, and My servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe Me, and understand that I am He: before Me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after Me. I, even I, am the L. I have declared, and have saved, and I have showed, when there was no strange god among you: therefore ye are My witnesses, saith the Lord, that I am God.”—in : “And who, as I, shall call, and shall declare it, and set it in order for Me, since I appointed the ancient people? and the things that are coming, and shall come, let them shew unto them.”—in : “Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure:”—in : “I have declared the former things from the beginning; and they went forth out of My mouth, and I shewed them; I did them suddenly, and they came to pass. Because I knew that thou art obstinate, and thy neck is an iron sinew, and thy brow brass; I have even from the beginning declared it to thee; before it came to pass I shewed it thee: lest thou shouldest say, Mine idol hath done them, and my graven image, and my molten image, hath commanded them. Thou hast heard, see all this; and will not ye declare it? I have shewed thee new things from this time, even hidden things, and thou didst not know them. They are created now, and not from the beginning; even before the day when thou heardest them not; lest thou shouldest say, Behold, I knew them. Yea, thou heardest not, yea, thou knewest not, yea,thou knewest not; yea, from that time that thine ear was not opened: for I knew that thou wouldest deal very treacherously, and wast called a transgressor from the womb. For My Name’s sake will I defer Mine anger, and for My praise will I refrain from thee, that I cut thee not off. Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction. For Mine own sake, even for Mine own sake, will I do it: for how should My name be polluted: and I will not give My glory unto another.”—in nothing, but He re : “Surely the Lord God will dovealeth His secret unto His servants the prophets.”
In prophecy He proclaims beforehand the things which shall happen and as they shall happen, as in theirs , f.f.; “And the Lord God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel. . . .”, in , f.f.: “And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before Me: for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth. . . .” in : “And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.”—in : “And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.”—in : “And He said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not , and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance. And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age.”—see also f.f. and f.f.
Also, the days of a man’s life are all determined beforehand, before he is born. This we read in : “My times are in Thy hand: deliver me from the hand of mine enemies, and from them that persecute me.”—in : “Behold, thou hast made my days as an handbreath; and mine age is as nothing before Thee: verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity. Selah.”—in : “My substance was not hid from Thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.”—and in : “Seeing his days are determined, the number of his months are with Thee, Thou hast appointed his bounds that he cannot pass.”
Indeed, the entire Old Testament, with all its prophecies, shadows, types, and symbols, constitutes a Divine prophecy of the future as, e.g., in connection with the sufferings and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. Christ, in all His suffering and death, followed a specific program which was outlined for Him in the Old Testament, and which, therefore, has been planned and willed by God from before the foundation of the world.
On the other hand, also the New Testament abounds in this testimony concerning the counsel of the Lord. In we read: “Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world.” The counsel of God precedes all things and it embraces all things. We read in : “In Whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him Who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will.” Moreover, it also includes the sinful deeds of men. This is clearly held before us, e.g., in : “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain;” —in : “For of a truth against Thy holy child Jesus, Whom Thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, For to do whatsoever Thy hand and Thy counsel determined before to be done.”—and in : “And truly the Son of man goeth as it was determined: but woe unto that man by whom He is betrayed!”
The Lord has determined the dwelling place of all the peoples of the earth and also the bounds of their habitations, : “And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitations.”
The will of God is revealed in the destruction of Judas, : “While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Thy Name: those that Thou gavest Me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled.”, in the reprobation of Esau, : “As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.”, in the hardening of the ungodly, : “Therefore hath He mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth”, in the raising up of Pharaoh, : “For the Scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew My power in thee, and that My name might be declared throughout all the earth.”, and in the endurance of the vessels of wrath fitted unto destruction, Rom. 9:22: “What if God, willing to shew His wrath, and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction.”
Moreover, Christ is appointed not only unto the rising but also the falling of many, they were appointed. . . . For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, …. For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.”: “And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and. rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against;” unto judgment, : “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God”, and a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence, ; ; : “Unto you therefore which believe He is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner. And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also
Besides, the unbelief of the wicked is ascribed to the will of God, : “But though He had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on Him: That the saying of Esaias the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed ? Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them. Those things saith Esaias, when he saw His glory, and spake of Him”, and also the faith of the people of God, : “And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” And do we not read in : “But ye believe not, because ye are not of My sheep, as I said unto you.” We must understand this word correctly. Jesus does not say that they are not of His sheep because they believe not, but that they do not believe because they are not of His sheep. It is, therefore, clear that the unbelief of the Jews is ascribed to the fact that they are not of His sheep, and hence to the sovereign will of the living God. And in we are told that the Lord has counted all the hairs of our heads, and that not a sparrow falls off the house top without the will of our heavenly Father: “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? (hence, they are not of much value—H,V.) and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” We may therefore conclude that the counsel of God, understood in its general, broadest sense, must be understood as all-comprehensive, as embracing all things, the existence and being, the development, and the activity of every form of existence throughout the universe, in the heavens above, upon the earth below, and in the waters under the earth.