The doctrine of the decrees of God is similar to the doctrine of providence. Wayne Grudem distinguishes between the two in his Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994), which my family and I are reading in our after-breakfast Bible reading time, thus: “Here we are thinking about God’s decisions before the world was created, rather than his providential actions in time” (page 332; the italics are his). His consideration of the doctrine being brief, three paragraphs on pages 332-33, I consulted Evangelical Dictionary of Theology and my other systematic theology books on it in preparation for our family reading of what he said. Although I didn’t share anything from them in our family reading, I’ll share a bit from them here.
Each of these systematic theology books devotes a full chapter to the decrees of God:
– Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology. Fourth edition. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1939.
– Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. Third edition. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 2013.
– Strong, Augustus Hopkins. Systematic Theology. Valley Forge, Pa.: Judson Press, 1907.
– Thiessen, Henry Clarence. Lectures in Systematic Theology. Revised by Vernon D. Doerksen. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979.
When I quote from or refer to Grudem’s Systematic Theology or them, I’ll give just the author’s surname and the book’s page number.
Definition of the Decrees of God
Strong defines the decrees of God as “that eternal plan by which God has rendered certain all the events of the universe, past, present, and future.” He says that he prefers “plan” to “decrees” because it excludes the ideas of plurality, shortsightedness, arbitrariness, and compulsion (Strong, 353). Erickson has the same preference and even calls his chapter on the topic “God’s Plan” instead of “The Decrees of God.” Although I agree that God has a plan that includes the events which He foreordained, I don’t think that it includes all of the events of the universe because I don’t think that the Bible teaches that He foreordained everything.
Biblical Evidence for the Decrees of God
Grudem quotes these Bible passages as evidence for the doctrine of the decrees of God (Grudem, page 333):
– “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, very one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” (Psalm 139:16, ESV; all Bible passages are quoted from the ESV).
– “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23; the speaker is Peter).
– “For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:27-28; the speakers were friends of Peter and John).
– He [God] chose us in him [Jesus Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 1:4).
– “For we are his [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
Erickson, Strong, and Thiessen also provide Biblical evidence for the doctrine of the decrees of God:
– Erickson, “The Old Testament Teaching” and “The New Testament Teaching,” pages 320-23.
– Strong, “Proof of the Doctrine of Decrees – 1. From Scripture,” pages 355-357.
– Thiessen, “The Content and Order of the Decrees,” pages 104-10.
Characteristics of the Decrees of God
Erickson gives these characteristics for the decrees of God (Erickson, pages 323-26):
1. They are from all eternity. Thus they don’t have a chronological sequence although they have a logical sequence and are enacted in a temporal sequence.
2. They are free on God’s part, not being caused by any internal compulsion or external influence.
3. Their purpose is God’s glory.
4. They are all-inclusive.
5. They are efficacious.
6. They relate to God’s actions rather than to His nature.
7. They relate primarily to what God does in creation, providence, and redemption.
8. They include human actions.
9. They are unchangeable.
Each of the other systematic theology books listed above also identifies and describes several characteristics of the decrees of God:
– Berkhof, “The Nature of the Divine Decrees” and “The Characteristics of the Divine Decrees,” pages 102-05.
– Strong, “Definition of Decrees,” pages 353-55.
– Thiessen, “The Definition of the Decrees” & “The Proof of the Decrees” & “The Bases of the Decrees” & “The Purpose of the Decrees,” pages 100-03.
Objections to the Doctrine of the Decrees of God
Berkhof (pages 105-08) and Strong (pages 359-68) state and reply to these three objections which are made to the doctrine of the decrees of God:
1. It is inconsistent with the free agency of man.
2. It takes away all motive for human exertion.
3. It makes God the author of sin.
I think that the objections are valid if God’s plan includes everything that happens in the universe.
Practical Uses of the Doctrine of the Decrees of God
In his article on “The Decrees of God” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (edited by Walter A. Elwell; Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1984), F. H. Klooster suggests these values of the doctrine of the decrees of God:
– “Scriptural references to God’s decree are generally set forth in concrete relation to historical situations for the purpose of promoting comfort, security, assurance, and trust.”
– “The eternal decrees of God also provides the explanation of predictive prophecy.”
Strong observes that the doctrine of the decrees of God not only inspires humility before and confidence in God but also warns sinners of their decreed and threatened penalty and urges them to accept the appointed means of salvation (Strong, 368).