Election: The Decrees of God
Election is a problem in some measure because of that of which it is a part. That whole of which it is a part is the doctrine of the decrees of God. The Westminster Shorter Catechism has defined the decrees of God as follows: “The decrees of God are his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.” This is a good, solid definition of the decrees of God. As Scripture reference to support this statement, the catechism references Ephesians 1:11, cited in the previous post, and Romans 9:22-23:
What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— (Romans 9:22-23 ESV)
In Ephesians, the emphasis is on the purpose of God, which is fulfilled in accordance with the will of God. The emphasis in Romans is on God revealing His glory in the elect. In either passage, what is implied is that God has a purpose, and that purpose works to His glory, especially by revealing His character. This character of God, discussed earlier, includes wrath, power, glory, will, sovereignty, etc.
A more complete description of the decrees of God is given in the Westminster Confession of Faith (3:1), which says:
“God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: (Ephesians 1:11, Romans 11:33, Hebrews 6:17, Romans 9:15,18) yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, (James 1:13,17, 1 John 1:5) nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established. (Acts 2:23, Matthew 17:12, Acts 4:27–28, John 19:11, Proverbs 16:33)”
There are several elements here need to be discussed in some detail.
First, the confession affirms that the decrees are “from all eternity.” God is an eternal God, and the plans which he has made are not being changed, but the world is following the plan that He has had since before the creation of the world. Here is the beginning of difficulty; that these plans were made in eternity. Does this then negate the responsibility and freedom of the creature, as God has already “unchangeably ordain[ed] whatsoever comes to pass.” Or, do we say that God has ordained based upon His foreseeing that certain events would occur? There is no doubt that the Bible speaks of God’s foreknowledge – “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (Romans 8:29 ESV) – but this does not speak of “foreseen” faith. Ephesians 1:11 denies this when it states the purpose of God is “in accordance with His will.” Nowhere does Paul, or any other Biblical author, indicate that the will of God is subject to foreseen activities on the part of the creature. Dr. Curt Daniel, in his series on The History and Theology of Calvinism, states (Lesson 27, “Foreknowledge”, 4c):
“Omniscience of the future is definite, not contingent. It is unconditional, not conditional, for God is sovereign. As we said, absolute foreknowledge requires that a thing shall certainly occur. But what gives it that absolute certainty of existence? Itself? If that were the case, then it would be uncaused by God. But God is the ultimate cause of all things. Therefore, it must be caused by God to be absolutely foreseen. If God foreordained on the basis of foresight of that which He did not foreordain, then God foreordains on the basis of the counsel of another. But Scripture says He foreordains on the basis of His own counsel, not another’s.”
So what is from all eternity is the plan of God. This plan, according to the Bible, clearly includes the atonement. “He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for your sake, who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” (1 Peter 1:20-21 ESV) Also, in the verses surrounding Romans 8:29 we see the plan of God for salvation stretching from before creation through the end of time: “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (Romans 8:30 ESV) This verse, taken along with Romans 8:29, shows that the chain of salvation begins with foreknowledge, which issues into predestination, which sees fruit through calling and justification, then culminates in the sure glorification of all the elect of God.
Secondly, according to the Westminster Confession, it is all things, not merely election, which have been determined by God. Again, this is reflected in Ephesians 1:11, where we are told God works “all things” according to His purpose and will. But we must understand that by doing so, God does not become the author of sin. “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.” (James 1:13 ESV) Though sin is part of God’s plan, and will be used for His purpose – “The Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.” (Proverbs 16:4 ESV) – He does so without becoming the responsible party for sin. How does this occur? Here is one area in which we have to yield our curiosity and acknowledge that we are finite creatures with finite understandings, for the Bible does not attempt to reconcile this. We know, as the Westminster Confession states, that God works these things so that no “violence [is] offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.” But how this can be we cannot presently see.
While we cannot see the "how" we can see that this is the way God has designed His universe. That God's sovereignty over everything and human responsibility coexist is seen in two Scriptures relating to Christ’s crucifixion. The first, Acts 2:23 ("this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men"), shows the cross to have been part of God’s plan, but still places guilt on the Jews for handing Jesus over to be crucified and places guilt on the Romans who then crucified Him. Likewise, Jesus Himself states, “The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” (Matthew 26:24 ESV) Here, we are told that Jesus betrayal had been “written” (by the prophets, indicating again Jesus’ faith in the infallibility of Scripture), but judgment is pronounced on Judas’ actions. A final reference from the Old Testament is Joseph’s testimony to God working His good intention through the evil act of Joseph’s brothers: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Genesis 50:20 ESV) Clearly, in a way outside of our understanding, God has so worked as to be the primary cause of all events but to do so in such a way that “the liberty or contingency of second causes [is not] taken away, but rather established.”
"Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!" (Romans 11:33 ESV)