“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:: Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it.” Isaiah 46:10, 11
“Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself…: 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.” Ephesians 1:8, 9, 11
“We believe that the same God, after he had created all things, did not forsake them, or give them up to fortune or chance, but that he rules and governs them according to his holy will, so that nothing happens in this world without his appointment: nevertheless, God neither is the author of, nor can be charged with, the sins which are committed.” Belgic Confession, Art. 13
“God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.” Westminster Confession, Chap. III, Art. 1
The doctrine of God (“Theology” proper) not only embraces God’s Being and Nature, that is, who and what He is; it also embraces His works, that is, what He does. As the eternally living God, He is the God who is constantly active, ever working, always doing what He pleases. Jesus referred to this when he said, “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work” (Jn. 5:17). And as those who understand that knowing God is the highest science and the greatest blessing in life, we ought to be interested in knowing (and knowing more!) of His actions and works.
The works of God are many and manifold. When we speak of God’s works we usually think, first of all, of His works of creation, providence, and salvation. But we must remember that God also has works that He performs within Himself. When Rev. Thomas Miersma wrote on the subject of the Trinity under this rubric, he treated part of these “internal” works of God. When God the Father begets the Son eternally, He is working within Himself; when the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, God is active within Himself. These are works of God which stay within His own Being and life. They are real and wonderful, yet unseen to us.
But there are other “internal” works of God which become “external,” that is, they become revealed outside of His own Being and life in time and history. These include God’s eternal act of predestinating (foreordaining, decreeing) all things. Scripture teaches that the works of God in time and history are all done according to His sovereign counsel and purpose worked out perfectly in eternity (cf. the above two texts). God was at work before the creation of the world drawing up a master plan for the creation and government of the universe and for the salvation of His church and people. It is this work of God which we treat in this article. We plan to limit ourselves this time to God’s general predestination of all things. In two future articles we will treat God’s predestination of men and angels, namely, election and reprobation.
The God “Wonderful in Counsel” (Is. 28:29)
When the Word of God teaches us the truth that God eternally decreed all things that ever take place in time and history, it teaches us in the first place, that this predestination proceeds from the sovereign mind andwill of God (cf. Dan. 4:35; Rom. 11:34). Before He made all things and began to work in time, our eternal Lord consciously and carefully thought about what He would do, and freely and deliberately willed what He would do. God’s decrees are so many thoughts and desires which arose out of His own perfect mind and will. This thinking and willing was done in perfect sovereignty, that is, in total freedom and in total self-sufficiency. No one else taught Him or told Him what to do; He was not guided or compelled by any one or any thing outside of Himself; He determined all things in and of Himself (cf.Is. 40:13, 14; Rom. 11:34, 35).
In the second place, this fact reveals at the same time that God’s decrees are not arbitrary and purposeless. Because they were thought out and willed, God’s decrees are a perfectly ordered and well-arrangedplan of all things that take place in time, Because they have their origin in God’s perfect mind and will, they tie not so many haphazard, unrelated determinations of things and events, but a perfect unity forming a marvelous plan, relating to one another with meaning and intention, so that they reveal and effect God’s sovereign purpose with all things. The Scriptures teach this plan and purpose of God’s predestination where it uses the words “counsel” and “purpose” (cf. Is. 46:10; Jer. 4:28; Acts 2:23). It is important to the sovereignty of God and comforting to the believer that all things which take place have meaning and purpose according to God’s eternal pre: destination. It is this which enables believers to say with regard to all that befalls them, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
In the third place, God’s decrees are not His reluctant determinations regarding time and history. His counsel is not a plan with which He is unhappy and dissatisfied. God’s decrees are His good pleasure. This is another key word used in Scripture in connection with God’s predestination (cf. Ps. 115:3; Is. 46:10; Matt. 11:26; Eph. 1:5). He does what He pleases and acts according to His good pleasure, not only in the sense that He freely does what He wills, but also in the sense that He delights in what He has planned because all His decrees are good and wise. This is the case not only with what we call good providences, but also with what we call evils, disasters, and tragedies. God takes pleasure in all that He has determined to do in this world. And if He does, so must we. As His decrees are worked out in our lives, we must always confess, “The Lord is good in all He does.” Like Jesus, we ought to respond, “I thank thee, O Father…; for so it seemed good in thy sight” (Matt. 11:25, 26).
From these three points then, we may see the absolute sovereignty of our decreeing God. His predestination reveals that He is God. Herman Hoeksema summarizes this well in his Reformed Dogmatics (Reformed Free Publishing Assn., 1966) where he writes:
It is especially this eternal counsel of God that presents the Lord God as the absolutely blessed and self-sufficient Lord of heaven and earth…. He is the living God, distinct from all idols. For this counsel bf God may not be compared with a dead plan, such as an architect makes of a house or any other edifice. For in the case of such a plan, the realization of the plan is always better and more glorious than the original conception; but the counsel of the Lord is His eternal good pleasure, according to which He willed and conceived all things that are ever realized or occur in time. In that counsel He has eternally all things with Himself, and rejoices perfectly in all the works of His hands…. He is God, and there is no one beside Him, the eternally Self-sufficient and most blessed Lord of all (pp. 154-55).
Opposition to this truth
The truth that God foreordains absolutely all things that take place in this life is one which consistently meets with stiff and even fierce opposition. Whether it be people in the unbelieving world or people who profess Christianity, men cannot stand the thought that God would determine all things ahead of time. To them, this is sheer fatalism and leads to a stoic (cold, uncaring) attitude toward life’s happenings. To them, it is repulsive that God would predestine sin and evils; it is in conflict with what a God of love would do. To them, this is too limiting of man and of his will and activity; it does not give him enough power and control in his life and in the world. Especially to the Arminian, the idea that God has determined all things, including man’s salvation, is repugnant, since it refutes his view of the freedom of fallen man’s will. Arminians are some of the greatest enemies of absolute predestination, even though it is the plain teaching of the Bible.
Yet it is an unholy irony that most people do believe that everything is somehow worked out ahead of time by someone or something; they simply will not believe that the God of the Christian faith is the One who has done this. Most believe that all things are fixed by chance or fate or evolutionary process or some higher power. They will trust many other gods for the control of their lives, but they will not give this power to the only true God, nor will they trust Him with their lives. This is why the gospel of the Reformed faith must be brought to unbelievers, the gospel of a sovereign God in whose hands are all things because He has ordained all things. This alone gives one a proper perspective on life, and comfort and hope in this world.
As for those who profess Christianity but reject this truth, they ought to know the only other options available to them. If they do not believe that all things come by God’s determination and appointment, then they must put something or someone else in His place. Do they want the devil in that place? Blind, impersonal fate? Cold, arbitrary luck? Or do they want the option of a totally chaotic world, in which all creatures and all events have absolutely no reason or purpose for existing and happening?!
The Word of God gives us no other option than the truth that God is the sovereign Power in the world, that He is the only One in control, and that all things come to pass as He has ordained from all eternity. The Scriptures are abundantly clear to all who will read them and yield to them, that God is the predestinating God, whose eternal plan covers all tings. In fact, it is precisely as the predestinating God that He is revealed to be God, the sovereign Lord. Popular Reformed speaker and author R.C. Sproul points this out in his book Chosen by God (Tyndale, 1986):
…The idea that God foreordains whatever comes to pass is…simply a tenet of theism—a necessary tenet of theism… To say that God foreordains all that comes to pass is simply to say that God is sovereign over his entire creation… If there is any part of creation outside of God’s sovereignty, then God is simply not sovereign. If God is not sovereign, then God is not God. (p. 26).
A denial of this truth, then, is in effect a denial of God Himself. That makes this doctrine extremely serious; indeed, it makes it a matter of life or death. Who isyour God, the God of predestination, or some vain idol? May we be led by grace through faith to confess with the psalmist, “But our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased.” (Ps. 115:3).