God’s Counsel Exclusively Divine and Sovereign

Also in Deut. 7:6-9 the emphasis is laid upon the sovereign love of the Lord, and we quote: “For thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God: the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto Himself, above all people that are upon Tie face of the earth. The Lord did not set His love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people: But because the Lord loved you, and because He would keep the oath which He had sworn unto your fathers, hath the Lord brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord thy God, He is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love Him and keep His commandments to a thousand generations.” The Lord, therefore, did not set His love upon Israel because they were greater in number, because of anything in them. To the contrary, Jehovah separated them from the peoples of the earth because He loved them and because He would keep the oath which He had sworn unto their fathers. This also explains the ninth verse. When we read in this verse that the Lord keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love Him and keep His covenants to a thousand generations, then the implication is not that He keeps covenant and mercy because they love Him and keep His commandments. Fact is, Moses had just emphasized the sovereign character of the love of God in verses 6-8. The emphasis, in verse 9, falls upon the truth that the Lord is God, the faithful God, and that, because He is God and the faithful God (not because of anything in them) He will keep covenant and mercy with them that love Him and keep His commandments to a thousand generations.

The same truth is emphasized in Deut. 4:6, and we quote: “Speak not thou in thine heart, after that the Lord thy God hath cast them out from before thee, saying, For my righteousness the Lord hath brought me in to possess this land: but for the wickedness of these nations the Lord doth drive them out from before thee. Not for thy righteousness, or for the uprightness of thine heart, dost thou go to possess their land: but for the wickedness of these nations the Lord thy God doth drive them out from before thee, and that He may perform the word which the Lord sware unto thy fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Understand, therefore, that the Lord thy God giveth thee not this good land to possess it for thy righteousness; for thou art a stiff necked people.” In connection with this Scripture we would call attention, first of all, to the fact that the nations of the world were driven out of the land of Canaan because of their great wickedness. Elsewhere we read in the Word of God that they had made the measure of their iniquity full. Their being driven out of the land of Canaan is surely a punitive act of the Lord, a divine punishment for their sins. The Lord realizes His counsel of reprobation also through the sinful acts of men as moral-rational creatures, who, although not reprobated because of their sins (Jacob have I loved and Esau have I hated before they did good or evil) are nevertheless condemned because of their evil, which condemnation because of sin is sovereignly included in the divine decree of Reprobation. God is the righteous Lord and always acts toward the children of men as that righteous God. Hence, He drives out the peoples of the land because of their great iniquity, that they had made the measure of their iniquity full. However, it should not escape our attention, also in this particular passage of Holy Writ, that Israel went in to possess that land and the peoples of the earth were driven out of it because the Lord would perform the vow which He has sworn unto the fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and to Jacob. In other words, already to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob the Lord has sworn that He would give the land of Canaan to Israel as an everlasting possession and inheritance. This means that long before Israel actually took possession of the land, the Lord had determined to give it to them. Surely, unless we would advocate a certain foreknowledge of God, so that the Lord saw beforehand that these nations would fill the measure of their iniquity (and this is contrary to all that Scripture reveals unto us of the living God), this implies that the destruction of these nations of the world was sovereignly determined by the Lord, and that, therefore, they filled the measure of their iniquity according to the sovereign counsel of the Lord.

But there is more in this passage of Deut. 9:4-6. We should notice that Moses is emphasizing in this text that Israel did not go in to possess the land because they were better than the peoples of the earth. This is beautifully expressed in this particular text. Fact is, the nations of the land were being driven out because of their great wickedness. But, if the nations of the land were being driven out because of their great wickedness, how is it then to be explained that Israel did not go in and inherit it? If these wicked nations, because of their great iniquity, were being dispossessed, how is it possible that Israel does inherit? Do we not read at the conclusion of verse 6 that they are a stiff necked people? Should not the same reason which drove the Canaanites out of the land prevent this stiff necked people from possessing it? The only reason why Israel might go in to possess the land of Canaan was that the Lord had sovereignly set His love upon them, and therefore could not revoke the oath which He had sworn unto their fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Hence, also Deut. 9:4-6 emphasizes the eternal and sovereign love of God. God’s election of His people is purely sovereign. And, as far as the sovereign character of Reprobation is concerned, that the Lord, for the sake of His people, sovereignly dispossessed the Canaanites, do we not read in Deut. 32:8-9: “When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when He separated the sons of Adam, He set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel. For the Lord’s portion is His people; Jacob is the lot of His inheritance”? That is, when the Lord separated the sons of Adam and set the bounds of their habitations, He did so with His eye upon His people.

Also in the New Testament the sovereign and unconditional character of God’s decree of Predestination is maintained and emphasized. What other conclusion can one possibly draw from a text such as John 10:26-27: “But ye believe not, because ye are not my sheep, as I said unto you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”? The wicked do not believe because they are not of His sheep. Hence, their reprobation determines their unbelief. Does it not follow then that when we read “My sheep hear my voice,” that they hear His voice, believe in Him because they are His sheep? Their election determines their hearing of His voice. And, what other conclusion can one possibly draw from Rom. 9:9-13? There we read in an oft-quoted passage: “For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sarah shall have a son. And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of Him that calleth:) It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” Surely, this last text, Rom. 9:13 must not be translated: “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I passed by.” These words, “loved” and “hated” must be understood as antonyms, opposites. They are equally positive. Besides, that this “hatred” of Esau does not merely mean a “passing by” is evident from a passage as Mal. 1:2-4, where the Lord’s hatred of Esau resulted in his destruction. Here we literally read that the Lord’s love of Jacob and hatred of Esau occurred before they had done good or evil. Hence, God’s predestination, election and reprobation, is unconditional and sovereign. And do we not read literally in Eph. 1:4 that we were chosen in order that we should be holy and not because we were holy? The text reads: “According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love.” Many more passages could be quoted from the Scriptures to establish this divine sovereignty of God’s decrees. But we would conclude by quoting the very familiar passage of I John 4:10: “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Could the truth of the Lord’s sovereign and unconditional love be stated more simply and clearly? This is not love, that we loved God, but that He loved us. The line never runs from us unto God but always from God to us. This is ever true: Never do we love the Lord, but always He loves us; His love is always first.

We would conclude by declaring that election is that sovereign and eternal love of God whereby He sovereignly willed to save a people in the way of sin and death and faith in Christ unto eternal glory. This definition of election, given us by the Rev. H. Hoeksema in His essentials, is a most beautiful definition. Let us understand it. Election signifies that the Lord sovereignly willed to save a people, through sin and death and faith in Christ, unto eternal glory. All this is the object of election. The Lord sovereignly willed exactly such a people, He sovereignly willed for them the way of sin and death and faith in Christ, and He sovereignly willed that exactly in this way they should be led into everlasting glory. This is the doctrine of election. And reprobation must be accorded the same sovereign interpretation. It is that divine decree whereby He sovereignly willed that a people, because of their sin, should be condemned unto eternal ruin and damnation. And also all of this belongs to Reprobation. We must not confuse condemnation with reprobation. Condemnation rests upon sin. This lies in the nature of the case. One can only condemn a person worthy of condemnation. Only a guilty person can be declared guilty. However, we must not identify condemnation with reprobation. Fact is, Esau was hated by the Lord before he had done any evil. Hence, the decree of reprobation is broader than the concept of condemnation. Reprobation includes condemnation. And the decree of reprobation is that sovereign decree of the Lord whereby He willed a sinner, who, then, because of his sin, stands eternally condemned before the living God. Both decrees are therefore equally sovereign. This brings us automatically into the supralapsarian and infralapsarian controversy. We would therefore conclude our series on the counsel of God by calling attention to this issue in our following articles.