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Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 2 > Chapter 7: The Divine Counsel (weeks 23-27)

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message 1: by Alex, Moderator (last edited May 02, 2014 07:14PM) (new)

Alex | 356 comments Mod
We're now tackling the last "mega-chapter" in the book. After this, all subsequent chapters are substantially shorter. Here is a summary of the big ideas I identified:

1. God is Always Active: As we already touched on in the previous section on the Trinity (points #10 and #11), God is vibrant, active, and always at work. His works are grouped into two broad categories: (1) his immanent work concerning himself and (2) the work concerning his creatures. First, God's immanent and intrinsic work (opera ad intra) refers to the eternal activity within God himself with respect to the relations between the three persons of the Trinity. This work is absolutely necessary to the divine being and includes the eternal generation of the Son and the eternal procession of the Spirit. Second, God is active in matters related to his creatures who exist outside of himself; we can further subdivide these works into two categories: (2a) God's eternal decrees which he determined within himself, before time began, establishing everything that would come to pass. This purposeful activity is an inward work of God (opera ad intra) in accordance with his will. (2b) In contrast, God's eternal decrees are executed and displayed in time through his acts of creation, preservation, and governance; this external activity is known as God's outward work (opera ad extra). All of God's works are interconnected (p. 342). Here is a simple diagram that I drew to help illustrate (click the image to enlarge it):
God's works

It is only after we consider God's absolute essence (chapter 1-2), his attributes (chapters 3-5), and the relations of the three persons along with his immanent works (chapter 6) that is is possible for us to discuss the essential internal works of God—namely his counsel and decrees (this chapter). The remainder of this book (chapters 8-14) is devoted to the subject of how God publicly reveals himself and unfolds his eternal decrees through his outward works of creation and providence.

2. Definitions and Terminology: As in the previous chapter, I think it's beneficial to clarify terms and definitions early on. We will be referring to a number of closely-related words, but each possessing very specific meanings (pp. 345-346; see also Turretin, Francis. Institutes of Elenctic Theology / Volume 1. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Pub., 1992. pp. 331-335):

Predestination, also referred to as Foreordination (Greek: proorismos; e.g., Acts 4:28; Rom. 8:29-30; Eph. 1:5) — There are three ways that this term is used. (1) In the broadest sense, it can refer to every decree of God concerning all of his creatures. Therefore, some people use this term interchangeably with God's providence. (2) More strictly, it speaks of God's decrees concerning the salvation or damnation of fallen men (commonly called "election" and "reprobation"). (3) Finally, in the strictest sense, this term is used to refer to the decree of election specifically, in what is called the "predestination of saints." Most commonly, the term "predestination" refers to the second and third usages, above. Predestination (foreordination) is distinguished from foreknowledge (see below) because predestination is a term that refers to how God ordains the means by which he accomplishes his purposes, whereas foreknowledge refers to the objects of his plans.

Foreknowledge (Greek: prognosis; e.g., Rom 8:29; 11:2; 1 Pet. 1:2) — This term has been variably used in church history. (1) Pelagians have used this word to refer to foreseen faith and works. God's foreknowledge is interpreted as a bare and simple knowledge of future things. It is purely an intellectual knowledge. (2) However, Scripture uses this word quite differently. "God's foreknowledge is not a passive form of precognition… but… a self-determination of God… and an act of his good pleasure" (p. 377). God's foreknowledge speaks of his practical love concerning the salvation of particular people (rather than a mere act of intellect). It is a description of God's active delight in his people.

While the word "foreknowledge" is not used in the Old Testament, the word "know" occurs frequently. When it is used in connection with God, it often refers to God’s favour upon a man, rather than merely an acknowledgement of his existence or his actions (e.g., Exod. 33:17; Jer. 1:5; Amos 3:2). It is the language of affection. God’s knowledge signifies His love or appointment for His people (cf. Hos. 8:4 where God denies knowledge of rebellious men). Similarly, the word "know" is used in like manner in the New Testament (e.g., Jn. 10:14; 1 Cor. 8:3; 2 Ti. 2:19; cf. Mt. 7:23). Accordingly, "foreknowledge" is not merely the knowledge of events yet to take place. To the contrary, "foreknowledge" is never used in the Bible in connection to events or actions, but rather only in connection to people. For instance, foreknowledge in Acts 2:23 refers to the person Jesus Christ, not to the act of crucifixion. Likewise, similar usages and meanings are evident in Rom. 11:2 and 1 Pet. 1:2. In Rom. 8:29-30, it refers to God’s special relationship with his people, and not simply his awareness of their future beliefs or attitudes. In fact, the Bible never speaks of faith, repentance, or the works of men being foreseen by God. (For this word study, I'm indebted to Pink, A.W. The Attributes of God. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1975. pp. 27-34). Francis Turretin also explains God's foreknowledge similarly: foreknowledge is "the love and benevolence with which [God] pursues us… [it is taken broadly to mean] love and election, as in Rom. 8:29 and Rom 11:2… [and at other times more strictly to mean] love and favour which is the fountain and foundation of election… [it is] the love of God (1 Pet. 1:2)" (Turretin, Francis. Institutes of Elenctic Theology / Volume 1. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Pub., 1992. pp. 334).

Election (Greek: ekloge; e.g., Rom. 9:11; cf. Jn. 15:16) — When used in reference to the divine counsel, this term refers to election to eternal salvation. It is God's eternal decree to show pity out of his grace to certain fallen men in order to save them from their sin. Election is intimately related to predestination (see above). However, election is used in a stricter sense than predestination. "For all can be predestined, but all cannot be elected because he who elects does not take all, but chooses some out of many. The election of some necessarily implies the passing by and rejection of others: 'Many are called,' said Christ, 'but few chosen' (Mt. 20:16); and Paul, 'The election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded (Rom. 11:7)… Election… implies the separation of some from others: 'God from the beginning hath taken out and separated you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth' (2 Thess. 2:13)" (Turretin, Francis. Institutes of Elenctic Theology / Volume 1. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Pub., 1992. pp. 334).

Purpose (Greek: prothesis; e.g., Rom. 8:28; 9:11; Eph. 1:11) — God's counsel is not aimless or arbitrary, but is founded upon a determined, fixed, and immutable purpose, and this purpose is rooted in his will. The Apostle Paul declares, it is the "purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will" (Eph. 1:11). As such, God's purpose is fundamentally his own good pleasure (Is. 46:10) and his own glory (Is. 48:11). He chose his people for his own glory (Eph. 1:4-6, 12, 14). He created us for his glory (Is. 43:6-7). He called Israel for his glory (Is. 49:3; Jer. 13:11). Even in wrath, God's aim is to make known his glory (Rom. 9:22-23). God plans to fill the earth with the knowledge of his glory (Habakkuk 2:14), etc. (For a detailed study of the zeal God has for his own glory, refer to Jonathan Edwards' Dissertation Concerning The End For Which God Created The World and John Piper's book Let the Nations Be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1993. pp. 41-46).

Decrees — The decrees of God are difficult for us to understand and cannot simply be explained by a single word. This is why we employ a variety of terms to help us grasp the extent and content of God's decrees, words like predestination, foreordination, foreknowledge, election, and purpose. Each of these terms lends focus to a slightly different aspect of God's decrees: namely (1) the principle from which they arise (i.e., God's purpose [prothesis]); (2) the objects of God's focus (i.e., foreknowledge [prognosis], election [ekloge]); and (3) the means by which God fulfills his will (i.e., predestination, foreordination [proorismos]). God's purpose is the fundamental cause of his work. It is the foreknowledge and election of God that separates certain people from others unto salvation. And, it is through predestination and foreordination that God prepares the means by which the elect receive salvation.

Turretin explains: "Prothesis [purpose] refers to the end; prognosis [foreknowledge] refers to the objects; proorismos [predestination, foreordination] to the means; prothesis [purpose] to the certainty of the event; prognosis [foreknowledge] and ekloge [election] to the singleness and distinction of persons; proorismos [predestination, foreordination] to the order of means… the Father determined from eternity to glorify us with himself. This is prothesis [God's purpose]. He elected us in his Son. This is prognosis [his foreknowledge]. He predestinated us to grace and the gifts of the Holy Spirit (who seals the image of the Son in us through his holiness and the suffering on the cross). This is proorismos [predestination, foreordination]" (Turretin, Francis. Institutes of Elenctic Theology / Volume 1. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Pub., 1992. pp. 335).


message 2: by Alex, Moderator (last edited May 03, 2014 08:28PM) (new)

Alex | 356 comments Mod
Counsel — "The counsel of God is to be understood as his eternal plan for all that exists or will happen in time. Scripture everywhere assumes that all that is and comes to pass is the realization of God's thought and will and has its model and foundation in God's eternal counsel (Gen. 1; Job 28:27; Prov. 8:22; Ps. 104:24; Prov. 3:19; Jer. 10:12; 51:15; Heb. 11:3; Ps. 33:11; Isa. 14:24-27; 46:10; Prov. 19:21; Acts 2:23; 4:28; Eph. 1:11; etc.)" (p. 372; cf. p. 344). In truth, the counsel of God is really a single and simple decree, although we commonly speak of it as multiple different decrees (e.g., decree to create, decree to permit the fall, decree to elect, decree to provide salvation in Christ for the elect, decree to apply salvation through the Holy Spirit, etc). But this is only because it is difficult for us (as finite creatures) to put into words and describe everything that God does by just a single decree. Bavinck provides the following analogy: "just as a genius all at once completely grasps the idea of a work of art, so the world plan is eternally complete in the divine consciousness. But just as an artist can only execute his vision in stages, so God unveils before the eyes of his creatures the one vision of his counsel in a series of temporal phases" (p. 374). "Similarly, the one simple and eternal decree [counsel] of God unfolds itself before our eyes in time in a vast multiplicity of things and events, a multiplicity that at one and the same time points back to the one decree of God and leads us, humanly speaking, to think of many divine decrees" (p. 374; cf. p. 392). "The counsel of God is the master concept because it is comprehensive. It covers all things without exception" (p. 392); and its final purpose is to bring glory to God!

Understanding All the Terms as a Whole: It is important to distinguish between God's decrees (opera ad intra) and their execution in creation (opera ad extra). God's decrees are internal to himself, eternal, determined only by God himself, and distinct from all his works in time (Acts 15:18; Eph. 1:4) (p. 373). The world is a "theatre" to display God's plans, to "exhibit his glory and perfections," and a "limited reproduction of his self-knowledge" on a creaturely level (p. 373). The is succinctly and beautifully summarized by the Westminster Shorter Catechism (Q&A 7): "What are the decrees of God? 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" (emphasis mine).

3. The Divine Counsel Originates with God: All of God's decrees arise from his infinite knowledge, wisdom, and sovereignty (pp. 342-343). "[God] ever chooses the means best suited to the attainment of his goal, needs no one's advice, and is awesome, elevated far above the counsel of the saints and of all those who surround him (Isa. 40:13; Jer. 23:18, 22; Ps. 89:7-8)" (p. 344); "the cause of all the decrees does not lie in any creature but only in God himself, in his will and good pleasure (Matt. 11:26; Rom. 9:11ff; Eph. 1:4ff)" (p. 402). He knows all possibilities and unilaterally determines what eventually comes to pass. Creation and providence are necessary only inasmuch as they are willed by God.

4. The Divine Counsel Determines All Things: "All things happen according to the 'determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God' (Acts 2:23 KJV)" (p. 345). All things are determined by God from eternity (cf. Is. 45:7, Eph. 1:11). The counsel of God is "in fact, the fountainhead of all reality. It encompasses in a single conception the end as well as the ways leading to it, the goal along with the means of reaching it. It is not a transcendent power randomly intervening now and then from above and impelling things toward their appointed end. On the contrary, it is the divinely immanent eternal idea that displays its fullness in the forms of space and time [and unfolds itself before our eyes without deviation]" (p. 397).

5. The Divine Counsel is Hidden From Us: "[God's] counsel, though secret (Job 15:8), is realized in history. All things happen in accordance with that counsel; it stands forever, and no one can withstand it (Isa. 14:24-27; 46:10; Ps. 33:11; Prov. 19:21)" (pp. 344-345). The specific content of God's decrees is hidden from us in the sense that there is no place in Scripture that provides us with a detailed description of God's hidden will and purposes (see chapter 5, point #5.2 for a comparison of God's hidden will vs. revealed will). We only know about the content of his decrees insofar as it is revealed to us by the events of history. As such, we cannot know God's decrees in advance, but only in retrospect—and even then, only in part, but never fully. This teaching has widespread implications. For example, we are not told how long we will live on earth; we do not know the events of tomorrow; we do not know who is elect (or reprobate); etc. These things are known to God eternally; some things are eventually revealed to us through the passage of time (and after the fact) but they are hidden from us in advance.

6. The Freedom of the Clay? Despite the fact that Scripture repeatedly and consistently teaches that God is free to do anything he desires, there have been opponents to God's absolute sovereignty, contending rather for the free will of man. The early church emphasized the moral responsibility of humans—teaching that while humans were corrupted by sin, they still remained free and able to accept God's grace. This remains the position of the Eastern orthodox church today. God's foreknowledge is reduced to an intellectual acknowledgement of future faithfulness or disobedience. Accordingly, God elects those that he foresees will respond to him with faith, but abandons others who do not believe. Humans, though weakened by sin, are still able to freely accept or reject the grace offered to them in the gospel ("prevenient grace"). If they accept, they are supported by "cooperative grace," but must still persevere to the end because there is always the possibility of falling away (p. 348).

Pelagius (circa 390-418 AD) took these ideas further and altogether challenged the doctrine of original sin. He argued that "Sin is always a free act of the will it can never become a natural disposition or condition, and it leaves human nature with its free will unimpaired… Adam's fall has no significance for his posterity. All humans are born in the same moral condition as that in which Adam was created. There is no such thing as original sin; death is not the penalty for sin but common and natural… Nor is sin, absolutely speaking, universal… it is also possible for Christians to abstain from all sins… God first gave humans 'natural power' (to do good), and then…. he offers them 'divine assistance' according to their merits" (pp. 348-349). With Pelagianism, God's grace is lost (p. 382). Everything is measured out either as a reward for obedience, or punishment for disobedience. Pelagius was eventually declared a heretic by the Council of Carthage and the First Council of Ephesus (p. 351).

A more moderate form of Pelagius' teachings emerged during the Middle ages, called semi-Pelagianism. According to semi-Pelagianists, the entrance of sin at the fall did indeed corrupt human nature; but this corruption left mankind spiritually sick and not completely dead. "They are now like sick persons who, though they cannot cure themselves, can take medicine and yearn for healing… Sinful humans, accordingly, though they cannot merit grace, can accept it and, assisted by it, persevere. God grants that grace, moreover, to those persons… whose acceptance of it and perseverance in it he has foreseen. On the other hand, he withholds it from those of whom he has foreseen the contrary" (p. 349). Salvation, as such, rests upon the recipient, rather than God alone.

Augustine (354-430 AD), in contrast, directed the church to return back to the teachings of the Apostle Paul. He firmly held to the doctrine of predestination. The elect are chosen "not according to merit or worth but purely out of grace, not on account of faith but to faith. 'They are not chosen because they believed but in order that they may believe'" (p. 350). All of humanity is part of the same mass of corruption (cf. Rom. 9:21), of which "[God] owes no one anything and can justly condemn all humans, but in his good pleasure he makes of one 'a vessel of honour' and of another 'a vessel of dishonour'" (p. 350). Augustine went on to describe and teach the doctrine of reprobation—a decree that he included under the heading of predestination. "Why God should save only some and let others perish is a mystery. It is not unjust, for he owes no one anything. Reprobation is an act of justice, as predestination is an act of grace. God manifests his virtues in both" (p. 351). Augustine taught that all of God's decrees are grounded completely upon his sovereign will alone.

Centuries later, the Roman Catholic church turned away from Augustinianism. At the Council of Trent (1545–1563 AD), Rome concluded that free will was not lost after the fall; "human beings can still perform many natural things that are not at all sinful but truly good" (p. 352). Prevenient grace is given to some. Those that accept this grace cooperate with God and are justified (by "a merit of congruity"). The "infused grace" of justification remains resistible but "enables humans to do good works and, by a merit of condignity [i.e., a merit acquired by works], to earn eternal life" (p. 353). Consequently, Augustine's doctrine of absolute predestination was formally rejected. Predestination to grace (i.e., faith and repentance) was separated from predestination to glory (i.e., final salvation). As a result, the Roman Catholic church removed all assurance of salvation from believers, teaching that a person may "[receive] the grace of faith and of justification yet still lose it" (p. 354). However "the separation of predestination to grace from predestination to glory is completely at variance with Scripture. It implies that the chain of salvation (Rom. 8:29) can snap at any point. It dissolves the one great work of re-creation into a series of human acts and actions that occur one after the other, without connection or continuity…. God's entire work in saving sinners is misconstrued and denied" (p. 382).


message 3: by Alex, Moderator (last edited May 01, 2014 01:08PM) (new)

Alex | 356 comments Mod
In response, the Reformation marked a return to Augustianism and Pauline teachings. Initially, Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin were united in their understanding of predestination. At first, the Lutherans, in the Formula of Concord, "declared in very clear terms that humans are by nature incapable of doing any spiritual good, and that faith is, in the strictest sense, a gift of God" (p. 356). However, the Lutherans were completely content with that and avoided further inquiry. Bavinck notes:

"[This] difference [in theology between the Reformed and the Lutheran] seems to be conveyed best by saying that the Reformed Christian thinks theologically, [whereas] the Lutheran anthropologically. The Reformed person… raises his sights to… the eternal decree of God. By contrast the Lutheran takes his position in the midst of the history of redemption and feels no need to enter more deeply into the counsel of God. For the Reformed, therefore, election is the heart of the church; for Lutherans, justification is the article by which the church stands or falls. Among the former [i.e., the Reformed] the primary question is: How is the glory of God advanced? Among the latter [i.e., the Lutheran] it is: How does a human get saved?… The Reformed person does not rest until he has traced all things retrospectively to the divine decree, tracking down the 'wherefore' of things, and has prospectively made all things subservient to the glory of God; the Lutheran [on the other hand] is content with the 'that' and enjoys the salvation in which he is, by faith, a participant" (from vol. 1, p. 177).


Disinterested in the divine decrees, Lutheranism eventually departed from its initial position, teaching that God has an antecedent will where he desires the salvation of all, but also a consequent will "by virtue of which God decides to effectively grant salvation to those whose ultimate faith in Christ he has foreseen and to prepare perdition for those who in the end resist grace" (pp. 357-358). The end result is that Lutheranism abandoned the doctrine of absolute predestination. Once again, man becomes the final determinant of his own salvation.

Whereas the Lutherans turned away from Augustine and Paul, the Reformed embraced their teachings—affirming human bondage under sin and divine election—and carefully incorporated the doctrine of predestination in their confessional documents (e.g., the Three Forms of Unity, the Westminster Standards, the Second Helvetic Confession, etc). To the Reformed, the doctrine of predestination not only carried anthropological and soteriological significance, but also tremendous theological importance. "In Reformed theology the primary interest is not the salvation of humankind but the honour of God" (p. 361). "The Reformers taught that election was not dependent on foreseen merits but was itself the source of faith and good works; that predestination to glory unfailingly carried with it a predestination to grace" (p. 363).

Soon after, however, resistance emerged from the Socinians, who outright denied the doctrine of predestination, and also from the Remonstrants (Arminians), who taught that God's decree to save was conditionally based on his foreknowledge of those who when offered prevenient grace would believe and persevere, but punishing those who resisted or fell away. As a result, "human beings [became] the final arbiters of their own destiny" (p. 368). The Amyraldians taught a universal and conditional decree of salvation to all and a second particular and absolute decree of salvation to some. All of these schools distort the doctrine of predestination and essentially adopt a form of semi-Pelagianism.

It seems that semi-Pelagianism in its many forms is rampant in most churches today. Those that argue for man's free will need to recognize that while man's will may be free from external coercion, he is not free from sin's tyranny. It is because we are captive to sin that we need Christ to set us free (John 8:34, 36).

7. The Freedom of the Potter! "God has the absolute right to give his creatures the destiny that seems good to him (cf. Isa. 10:15; Jer. 18; Matt. 20:15). From the perspective of absolute right a creature cannot quarrel with its Creator… [the Bible] makes no attempt to demonstrate the fairness or justice of election but simply silences the objectors with an appeal to the absolute sovereignty of God" (p. 346; cf. pp. 235, 395). Indeed, the Prophet Isaiah exclaimed:

"You turn things around! Shall the potter be considered as equal with the clay, That what is made would say to its maker, 'He did not make me'; Or what is formed say to him who formed it, 'He has no understanding'?" (Isaiah 29:16 NASB) and "Woe to the one who quarrels with his Maker—An earthenware vessel among the vessels of earth! Will the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you doing?’ Or the thing you are making say, ‘He has no hands’?" (Isaiah 45:9 NASB)


From the very beginning, God has exercised his sovereignty by choosing some men while rejecting others: the line of Seth was blessed, but not Cain's; Noah was preserved from the flood, but the rest of the world perished; after the flood, Noah's children Shem and Japheth were blessed, but a curse was pronounced on Canaan; among all of Shem's descendants, Abraham was specially chosen among all the families in the world; of Abraham's children, Isaac was declared the child of promise, but Ishmael was sent away; Isaac's son Jacob was loved, but Esau was hated; etc. (pp. 343-344). All of these acts of election are independent acts of God's sovereignty.

8. Double Predestination? The doctrine of "double predestination" teaches that both "election" and "reprobation" are included in God's eternal decrees (p. 393). Without God’s gracious, sovereign election, no one can be saved. Just as God determines who he will save, He likewise sovereignly determines who he will pass over (Jn. 10:26; 12:37-40). Note the logic: if mankind cannot be saved without God’s election, and God’s saving initiative is only extended to some people, then by process of exclusion, those who do not receive God’s election are reprobate. "Those who hold the doctrine of Election but deny that of Reprobation can lay but little claim to consistency. To affirm the former while denying the latter makes the decree of predestination an illogical and lop-sided decree" (Boettner, Loraine. The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination. Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Pub., 1932. p. 105).

However, the manner that God uses to rescue some (election) is completely different than how He judges others (reprobation); they are not symmetrical and equal actions (see Canons of Dort, The First Head of Doctrine: Divine Election and Reprobation, articles 7 and 15; p. 352; cf. p. 363). In election, God (actively) intervenes to overcome the resistance of the elect (who are, by nature, in the same condition as the reprobate) by giving them a new heart that can respond in saving faith and repentance (Eph. 2:8-10; Jn. 1:12-13; 3:3). For the reprobate, God (passively) leaves them in their natural state of sin and unbelief without creating evil in them (James 1:13-15). As such, "God does not foreordain to destruction and to the means that lead to it—namely sins—in the same sense in which he foreordains to salvation and to the means that lead to it" (p. 350). The Bible clearly teaches that men are not victims of God who would withhold salvation from those who desire it. Rather, we naturally resist God, turning away from His goodness, mercy, and love (note: for an excellent treatment of this subject, refer to Jonathan Edward’s sermon Men Naturally are God’s Enemies). Without God’s gracious, loving intervention, no one would ever be saved:

"Let it be a settled principle in our religion, that man’s salvation if saved is wholly of God, and that man’s ruin, if lost, is wholly of himself. The evil that is in us is all our own: the good, if we have any, is all of God. The saved in the next world will give God all the glory: the lost in the next world will find that they have destroyed themselves" (Ryle, J. C. Expository Thoughts on Matthew. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1986).


9. Election Explored: Man, in his fallen state, is without hope and deserving of punishment (Rom. 3:23; 6:23). The Scriptures teach that no one will ever come to God on his own initiative (Jn. 5:39-40). No one seeks God (Rom. 3:10-12). No one naturally desires God (Rom. 8:5-8). "The sinner, apart from Divine help, is unable to will and unwilling to be able to come to Jesus Christ" (Best, W. E. Regeneration and Conversion. Houston, TX: South Belt Grace Church, 1975. p. 120). However, before the foundation of the world, God graciously elected some unto salvation, according to his own good pleasure, and not on the basis of the inherent worthiness of the recipient (Eph. 1:4-6; Acts 13:48). For reasons known only to God Himself, he has chosen to save some, but not others (Rom. 9:21-23). His choice is not formulated on the basis of any distinctives in the person, such as individual merit or intrinsic “loveablility” (Rom. 9:11-18). This is sovereign, unconditional election. It is sovereign—because it is decisively determined by God alone—and unconditional—because it is not conditional (or dependent) on the merits of the recipient but grounded upon God's will alone (p. 401). God's decree of election is unchangeable. There is nothing we can do to lose it, nor anything that anyone can do to earn it. As Augustine said, "The number of the elect is certain; it can neither be increased nor diminished" (p. 378).

For this reason, we can have great comfort in the doctrine of election because the security of our salvation is not rooted in our abilities, but rather in God's good pleasure (Matt. 11:26; Rom. 9:11ff; Eph. 1:4ff; pp. 401-402). "If it were based on justice and merit, all would be lost. But now that election operates according to grace, there is hope even for the most wretched. If work and reward were the standard of admission into the kingdom of heaven, its gates would be opened for no one… But to believe in and to confess election is to recognize even the most unworthy and degraded human being as a creature of God and an object of his eternal love. The purpose of election is not—as it is often proclaimed—to turn off the many but to invite all to participate in the riches of God's grace in Christ" (p. 402).


message 4: by Alex, Moderator (last edited Apr 29, 2014 08:07PM) (new)

Alex | 356 comments Mod
The idea that God favours some, but not others is confirmed throughout the Scriptures and is also evident in the natural world. "Equality exists in no area of life. The world is not ordered according to the Pharisaic law of work and reward. Merits and riches are totally unrelated… it is only God's grace that makes the difference" (p. 399). After all, we can ask the questions as to why certain people are born into more privileged homes, and others not. Why are some people left in poverty despite their industrious labours, while others are flagrantly wealthy through inheritance? Why is it that some children are born with physical or intellectual disabilities, while others are naturally gifted in sports and academics? Why do certain men escape injury despite high-risk behaviours, whereas other men become unexpectedly ill through no fault of their own? Why are some people born into godly Christian homes with access to the Scriptures, while others are born in places where they will never hear the Word of God? None of these can be satisfactorily explained by the axiom of merit-and-reward. Clearly, God's providential hand orders and governs the world in a way that is far different than what we would expect. "God's decrees cannot be understood as acts of a justice that operates according to works performed and merit achieved" (p. 400). He graciously yet inequitably bestows favour upon some, but not others. Here are a few additional important implications of this doctrine:

○ (i) God's election is included among his decrees and he ordains both the means and the ends; he has ordained cause-and-effect (pp. 399-400). In other words, when God ordains the salvation of his people to glory, he also ordains the necessary intermediate steps of calling, regeneration, conversion with saving faith and repentance, justification, adoption, sanctification with growth in holiness, and the strengthening of his people with the means of grace (cf. Rom. 8:28-30). The presence of saving faith in Jesus Christ, therefore, is the fruit and evidence of election, not the cause of it (Rom. 8:29; Eph. 1:4-5; Acts 13:48) (p. 377). Although "there is a causal connection between faith and salvation, but the decree of election is not prompted by foreseen faith; on the contrary, election is the cause of faith (Acts 13:48; 1 Cor. 4:7; Eph. 1:4-5; 2:8; Phil. 1:29)" (p. 401).

○ (ii) Election is always an act of grace, but not necessary an act of mercy. Mercy "denotes the ready inclination of God to relieve the misery of fallen creatures. Thus, 'mercy' presupposes sin… Though it may not be easy at the first consideration to perceive a real difference between the grace and the mercy of God, it helps us thereto if we carefully ponder his dealings with the unfallen angels. He has never exercised mercy toward them, for they have never stood in any need thereof, not having sinned or come beneath the effects of the curse. Yet, they certainly are the objects of God’s free and sovereign grace. First, because of his election of them from out of the whole angelic race (1 Tim. 5:21). Second, and in consequence of their election, because of his preservation of them from apostasy, when Satan rebelled and dragged down with him one-third of the celestial hosts (Rev. 12:4). Third, in making Christ their Head (Col. 2:10; 1 Pet. 3:22), whereby they are eternally secured in the holy condition in which they were created. Fourth, because of the exalted position which has been assigned them: to live in God’s immediate presence (Dan. 7:10), to serve him constantly in his heavenly temple, to receive honorable commissions from him (Heb. 1:14). This is abundant grace toward them but 'mercy' it is not" (Pink, A.W. The Attributes of God. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1975. p. 91)

In the eternal decree of electing angels, God exercised grace, but not mercy—for "there was no sin [in the case of the elect angels] and hence no mercy either" (p. 400). In a similar way, when considering the election of humans, "though [it is] an act of mercy, it is not explicable in terms of mercy alone. For then God would have had to be merciful to all, since all [had sinned and] were wretched. Similarly, reprobation, though an act of justice, cannot be explained in terms of justice alone, for then all would have been rejected" (pp. 400-401). So it all comes down to this: election (and reprobation) must ultimately find its reason in the sovereign will of God, not in the condition or plight of the creature! "The salvation of human beings is firmly established in the gracious and omnipotent good pleasure of God" (p. 402).

○ (iii) While the Scriptures indeed teach that there is personal election, it should nonetheless be noted that the elect are not viewed separately, but rather corporately together as the body of Christ (p. 401-402). We are elected together in Christ who is our head (Eph. 1:4-5). Therefore, both Christ and the church are included together in this decree of election (p. 403); "the church is elect in and for Christ to be conformed to his image and to see his glory (John 17:22-24; Rom. 8:29)" (p. 404). Christ together with his church is the real object of election (p. 404; cf. p. 401). The ultimate goal of election is for God to bring glory to himself by revealing his perfections to his creatures (p. 399). Election is subservient to this goal because it is the means whereby God reconstitutes the human race under a new head, Christ, and reveals his virtues, justice, grace, holiness, love, mercy, and perfections in his people in the final state of glory (p. 390).

10. Reprobation Explored: This is a fearful doctrine and one that should be treated with great care and humility. Understanding this doctrine reminds us of the seriousness of life, and humbles us before the sovereign God Almighty (p. 394). As we try to grasp the concept of reprobation, it is important to concede that we are not given answers to everything but we are simply asked to trust in God who governs all things perfectly. We are reminded throughout the Scriptures (and particularly from the book of Job) that "searching for an answer is not the solution of perplexity, but to trust God in the midst of uncertainty" (Mhyla Tamayo Tamayo [from a personal communication]; cf. pp. 395-396).

It is clear that "sin, unbelief, death, and eternal punishment are [all] subject to God's governance" (p. 393). Throughout Scripture, we see how God rejects specific people and turns them over to their own sin: "He rejects Cain (Gen. 4:5), curses Canaan (Gen. 9:25), expels Ishmael (Gen. 21:12; Rom. 9:7; Gal. 4:30), hates Esau (Gen. 25:23-26; Mal. 1:2-3; Rom. 9:13; Heb. 12:17), and permits the Gentiles to walk in their own ways (Acts 14:16)… [and in his rejection God also expresses] hatred (Mal. 1:2-3; Rom 9:13), cursing (Gen. 9:25), hardening (Exod. 4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:20, 27; 11:10; 14:4; Deut. 2:30; Josh. 11:20; 1 Sam. 2:25; Ps. 105:25; John 12:40; Rom. 9:18), infatuation [note: it seems like Bavinck is using this term to mean "frustration"] (1 Kings 12:15; 2 Sam. 17:14; Ps. 107:40; Job 12:24; Isa. 44:25; 1 Cor. 1:19), blinding and stupefaction (Isa. 6:9; Matt. 13:13; Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10; John 12:40; Acts 28:26; Rom. 11:8)… etc." (p. 393). "[God] forms the light and creates the darkness (Isa. 45:7; Amos 3:6); he creates the wicked for the day of evil (Prov. 16:4)… inclines the heart of all humans as he wills (Prov. 16:9; 21:1), and orders their steps (Prov. 20:24; Jer. 10:23). Out of the same lump of clay he makes one vessel for beauty and another for menial use (Jer. 18; Rom. 9:20-24), has compassion upon whomever he wills and hardens the heart of whomever he wills (Rom. 9:18). He destines some people to disobedience (1 Pet. 2:8), designates some for condemnation (Jude 4), and refrains from recording the names of some in the Book of Life (Rev. 13:8; 17:8)" (p. 394).

Although sin is sufficient grounds to merit eternal punishment, it is not the primary cause of reprobation—for sin entered the world (in time) after the decree of reprobation was given (in eternity). Therefore, we must conclude that the ultimate ground for reprobation is found in the will of God alone (p. 396). "Though God established a causal connection between sin and punishment, and though he maintains that connection in everyone's conscience, the decree of reprobation has its ultimate ground, not in sin and unbelief, but in the will of God (Prov. 16:4; Matt. 11:25-26; Rom. 9:11-12; 1 Pet 2:8; Rev. 13:8)" (p. 401). Why then does God allow the entrance of sin and punishment into creation? We cannot fully answer this question. But we know that sin and judgment do not exist for their own sake, but are rather used as means in advancing God's honour. "[Sin] is good indirectly because, being subdued, contained, and overcome, it brings out God's greatness, power, and justice. God's sovereignty is never more brilliantly manifested than when he manages to overrule evil for good (Gen. 50:20), and makes evil subservient to the salvation of the church (Rom. 8:28; 1 Cor. 3:21-23), the glory of Christ (1 Cor. 15:24ff; Eph. 1:21-22; Phil. 2:9; Col. 1:16), and the glory of God's name (Prov. 16:4; Ps. 51:4; Job 1:21; John 9:3; Rom. 9:17, 22-23; 11:36; 1 Cor. 15:28)" (pp. 398-399). Here are a few additional practical implications of this doctrine:

○ (i) We cannot presume upon the secret things of God (see point #5 above). "Although God knows those who are his and the number of the elect is said to be small (Matt. 7:14; 22:14; Luke 12:32; 13:23-24), 'nevertheless, we should cherish a good hope for everyone and not rashly count anyone among the reprobate'" (p. 396).

○ (ii) We need to treat reprobation with all seriousness and extend grace to others. We should never delight in the destruction of others, or presume ourselves to be better than those who are lost. While the "fall, sin, and eternal punishment are included in the divine decree and in a sense willed by God, but then always only in a certain sense and not in the same manner as grace and blessedness. God takes delight in the latter, but sin and punishment are not occasions of pleasure or joy to God… when he punishes the wicked, he does not delight in their suffering as such; rather in this punishment, he celebrates the triumph of his perfections (Deut. 28:63; Ps. 2:4; Prov. 1:26; Lam. 3:33).

○ (iii) The doctrine of reprobation influences how we understand all the other decrees of God (see point #11 below for details; cf. pp. 383-384).


message 5: by Alex, Moderator (last edited May 01, 2014 01:11PM) (new)

Alex | 356 comments Mod
11. Supralapsarianism vs. Infralapsarianism: Among the Reformed, there is considerable disagreement surrounding the order of his divine decrees. Principally, the debate has been divided into two camps: supralapsarianism vs. infralapsarianism. "Supralapsarians" believe the decree of predestination (i.e., election and reprobation) was conceived before [supra; literally: above] the decree to ordain the fall [lapses]; "infralapsarians," on the other hand, hold to the position that the decree of predestination (i.e., election and reprobation) came after [infra; literally: below] the decree to permit the fall. What should be carefully noted, however, (and which is not explicitly stated by Bavinck) is that we are speaking of is the logical order of decrees as conceived by God in eternity, not the sequence of events as they unfold in time. The actual order of the decrees as they unfold in time are identical with both positions; this is not the debate. The debate concerns the logical order of God's decrees as they were conceived in eternity.

Fundamentally, the heart of the lapsarian debate is framed by the following two questions: "When the decrees of election and reprobation came into existence were men considered as fallen or as unfallen? Were the objects of these decrees contemplated as members of a sinful corrupt mass, or were they contemplated merely as men whom God would create?" (Boettner, Loraine. The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination. Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Pub., 1932. p. 126). If you believe that the objects of election and reprobation were unfallen men, or simply potential creatable men, then you are supralapsarian in your position. The decree of election and reprobation logically preceded the decree to permit the fall (and possibly even before the decree to create) (cf. p. 366). On the other hand, if you believe that election and reprobation logically came after the fall of men, when all of humanity was already identified as a common "corrupt mass," then you are infralapsarian (p. 364).

There are several ways that the supralapsarian position can be framed. The common element in all three schemes is that the decree of predestination (to elect and reprobate) precedes the decree to ordain the fall. (The following summary is from Storms, C. Samuel. Chosen for Life: The Case for Divine Election. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007. pp. 213-219):

(A) High supralapsarianism
1. the decree to elect and reprobate
2. the decree to create all humanity
3. the decree to ordain the fall
4. the decree to provide salvation in Christ for the elect
5. the decree to apply salvation to the elect through the Holy Spirit

(B) Low supralapsarianism
1. the decree to create all humanity
2. the decree to elect and reprobate
3. the decree to ordain the fall
4. the decree to provide salvation in Christ for the elect
5. the decree to apply salvation to the elect through the Holy Spirit

(C) Teleological supralapsarianism
1. the decree to elect and reprobate
2. the decree to apply salvation to the elect through the Holy Spirit
3. the decree to provide salvation in Christ for the elect
4. the decree to ordain the fall
5. the decree to create all humanity

Likewise, infralapsarianism can be thought of in a couple of ways. In both, the decree of predestination (to elect and reprobate) follows the decree to permit the fall. Of note, the difference between the two views ("hard" vs. "soft") is subtle and differs only in how the decree concerning the fall of man is framed. "Soft" infralapsarians phrase the decree concerning the fall as being "permitted" rather than "ordained" as a way to avoid false charges that God is the author of sin (auctor peccati) while still preserving his providential control.

(D) Hard infralapsarianism
1. the decree to create all humanity
2. the decree to ordain the fall
3. the decree to elect and reprobate
4. the decree to provide salvation in Christ for the elect
5. the decree to apply salvation to the elect through the Holy Spirit

(E) Soft infralapsarianism
1. the decree to create all humanity
2. the decree to permit the fall
3. the decree to elect and reprobate
4. the decree to provide salvation in Christ for the elect
5. the decree to apply salvation to the elect through the Holy Spirit

Vain Speculation? There have been some who insist that this kind of study goes beyond proper biblical investigation and should be off-limits from theological speculation. G.C. Berkouwer, for example, said the supralapsarian-infralapsarian debate trespasses the boundaries set by revelation (Berkouwer, G. C. Divine Election. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1960. p. 254). Berkouwer is correct that we should not trespass areas that are forbidden (i.e., we are warned against prying into curious and vain investigations of God's decrees; see Canons of Dort, The First Head of Doctrine: Divine Election and Reprobation, articles 12 and 14, and the Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 3, paragraph 8); and we should always be cautious to never reduce theology into pure academic exercise. Yet, I still think that it is legitimate to humbly study the logical order of God's decrees because the Scriptures are not silent on this topic. As we seek to understand the ways of God more, we should be drawn to greater adoration for him. After all, true theology produces doxology.

Implications of Supralapsarianism: To the supralapsarian, reprobation arises purely from God's good pleasure, conceived prior the decree to ordain the fall and before the commission of sin (i.e., a "negative" decree; p. 352). This decree of reprobation "is no more based on demerits than election is based on merits. It implies the will [of God] to permit certain persons to plunge into guilt, and is the cause of abandonment" (p. 363). Election and reprobation are pure acts of divine sovereignty. This is supported by numerous texts that declare God's absolute sovereignty, even in relation to sins (Ps. 115:3; Prov. 16:4; Isa. 10:15; 45:9; Jer. 18:6; Matt. 20:15; Rom. 9:17, 19-21; p. 385). "Supralapsarianism undoubtedly has in its favour that it refrains from all useless attempts at justifying God. In the cases of both reprobation and election, it grounds itself in God's sovereign, incomprehensible, yet always wise and holy good pleasure" (p. 386).

However, a potential weakness of high supralapsarianism is that it supposes that the decree of reprobation, as it was conceived by God, was issued to morally neutral, potential, "creatable" humans. Therefore, the decree of election and reprobation, as it was purposed in eternity, was not grounded in any legitimate object, only potential ones. "The objects of the decree of election and reprobation, therefore, are 'nonbeings,' not specific persons known to God by name." This is difficult to comprehend as Charles Hodge points out, "where there is no sin, there is no condemnation" (Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology / Volume 2: Anthropology. [Peabody, Mass.]: Hendrickson, 1999. p. 318). Furthermore, "if the object of election is the salvation of possible persons, the decree must include the incarnation of a possible Christ, for the church and its head cannot be separated" (p. 386; see point #9 above). Another potential weakness of supralapsarianism is that the creation and the fall become the means of executing election and reprobation (pp. 364, 384; Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology / Volume 2: Anthropology. [Peabody, Mass.]: Hendrickson, 1999. p. 318). However, creation is never represented in Scripture as a means of executing election and reprobation (p. 390). Finally, supralapsarianism "makes the eternal punishment of reprobates an object of the divine will in the same manner and in the same sense as the eternal salvation of the elect… it makes sin, which leads to eternal punishment, a means in the same manner and in the same sense as redemption in Christ is a means toward eternal salvation" (p. 387).

Implications of Infralapsarianism: To the infralapsarian, the decrees of election and reprobation are "positive" decrees and presuppose the fall of the human race (p. 352). The objects of election and reprobation were, as conceived by God, already in a common state of corruption. In contrast to the supralapsarian position (where the objects of reprobation are unfallen men), here sin is taken into account already. "The fall in Adam is the proximate cause of reprobation" (p. 364). Reprobation, therefore, is an act of divine justice (p. 354). "The elect and the reprobate are equally guilty, but God is merciful toward the former and just toward the latter" (p. 364). In favour of infralapsarianism, Scripture seems to consistently frame election and reprobation as decrees issued to a common fallen mass of corruption (cf. Rom. 9:21). Election is raised as an act of mercy and compassion, whereas reprobation as an act of justice—although the objects of both are equally guilty and ill-deserving of any grace (Deut. 7:6-9; Matt. 12:25-26; John 15:19; Rom. 9:15-16; Eph. 1:4-12; 2 Tim. 1:9; p. 385).

However, the weakness of infralapsarianism is that it "does not satisfy the mind… [for] if in the divine consciousness the decree of reprobation did not occur until after the decree to permit sin, the question inevitably arises: then why did he permit sin?… why did God, by an act of efficacious permission, foreordain the fall? Infralapsarianism has no answer to this question other than God's good pleasure, but in that case it says the same thing as suprlapsarianism… [therefore] infralapsarianism, reasoning backward, still ends up with a supralapsarian position" (p. 385).

Reconciling the Two Positions: It is impossible to resolve the debate by appealing to Scripture alone as there is Scriptural support for both positions (p. 385). There is much truth to both sides: "both election and reprobation presuppose sin and are acts of mercy and justice (Rom. 9:15; Eph. 1:4)… [yet] both are also acts of divine sovereignty (Rom. 9:11, 17, 21)" (p. 391). It appears that the distinction between supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism is, at least in part, due to our inability (as finite creatures) to fully understand the ways of God and the weakness of our language in expressing his plans. "Accordingly, neither the supralapsarian nor the infralapsarian view of predestination is capable of incorporating within its perspective the fullness and riches of the truth of Scripture and of satisfying our theological thinking. The truth inherent to supralapsarianism is that all the decrees together form a unity; that there is an ultimate goal to which all things are subordinated and serviceable… that from the very beginning the creation was designed to make re-creation possible; and that even before the fall, in the creation of Adam, things were structured with a view to Christ. But the truth inherent in infralapsarianism is that the decrees, though they form a unity, are nevertheless differentiated with a view to their objects… and that sin was above all and primarily a catastrophic disturbance of creation, one which of and by itself could never have been willed by God" (p. 391).


message 6: by Alex, Moderator (last edited Apr 29, 2014 08:08PM) (new)

Alex | 356 comments Mod
It is unfortunate, however, that the lapsarian positions are often misconstrued and misunderstood by the other side. Here are some common pitfalls to avoid. (1) It should be noted that supralapsarians do not teach that God is the author of sin. Sin arises from the human will. "Humans fall and sin voluntarily through their own fault" (p. 384). (2) Infralapsarians do not reduce foreknowledge to a Pelagian (or Arminian) level. The entrance of sin by the fall was not merely foreseen, but sovereignly foreordained by his decree (p. 384). (3) Adherents to both positions genuinely desire to exalt God. The final end of all of God's decrees is to bring glory to himself. Neither election nor reprobation is the final goal; rather they are both "means toward the attainment of the glory of God, which is the ultimate goal, and, therefore, the fundamental ground of all things" (p. 398).

We should therefore acknowledge that there is much similarity between the two views. "On the decrees themselves and on their content, accordingly, there is no disagreement. Both parties reject free will, and deny that faith is the cause of election and that sin is the cause of reprobation, and thus combat Pelagianism. Both parties ultimately rest their case in the sovereign good pleasure of God. The difference only concerns the [logical] order of the decrees. Infralapsarians adhere to the historical, causal order; supralapsarians prefer the ideal, teleological order. The former [i.e., infralapsarians] construe the term 'predestination' in a restricted sense and have the decree of creation, fall, and providence precede it. The latter [i.e., supralapsarians] subsume all the other decrees under the term 'predestination.' In the thinking of the infralapsarians, the emphasis lies on the plurality of the decrees; in that of the supralapsarians, on the unity of the decrees. In the former [i.e., infralapsarianism], all the decrees to some degree have a significance of their own; in the latter [i.e., supralapsarianism], the preceding decrees are all subordinate to the final decree" (pp. 384-385). Both sides agree that sin "is not a means to the ultimate goal but a serious disruption of God's creation, and therefore that Adam's fall [into sin] was not a forward step but certainly a fall" (p. 387); "reprobation is not the 'primary cause' but only the 'accidental cause' of sin… and sin is both the 'efficient' but the 'sufficient' cause of reprobation" (p. 388).

Side note: Supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism are both considered orthodox views and have been accorded equal recognition. Both are fundamentally Reformed. There are adherents to both views that are well-respected within the Reformed community (p. 384). Examples of notable theologians holding to the supralapsarian view include Theodore Beza, William Twisse, Herman Witsius, and Samuel Rutherford. In contrast, examples of notable theologians holding to the infralapsarian view include W.G.T. Shedd, Charles Hodge, and Loraine Boettner. The Canons of Dort are infralapsarian (pp. 366-367, 384; see Canons of Dort, The First Head of Doctrine: Divine Election and Reprobation, articles 7 and 10) and the Westminster Confession of Faith seems to imply this position too but ultimately leaves the issue undecided (cf. pp. 367-368, 384; see Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 3, paragraph 7).

12. Providence: I'll only cover this topic briefly here because there is an entire chapter on Providence later on which goes into much more detail (chapter 14). The reason that providence is brought up under the heading of the divine counsel is because the Reformed have traditionally understood providence to be a decree of God that includes all of God's activities in nature following initial creation. It includes all things—whether they be small, great, continent, or free (p. 375; Turretin, Francis. Institutes of Elenctic Theology / Volume 1. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Pub., 1992. p. 497). Accordingly, subsumed under providence are God's decrees to preserve and govern his creatures (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q&A 11; p. 375). "By preservation [it] is meant that all things out of God owe the continuation of their existence… to the will of God" (Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology / Volume 1: Theology. [Peabody, Mass.]: Hendrickson, 1999. p. 575). By government, we mean that God has a purpose and direction for his creation, and he directs everything so that his will is accomplished. "[Because] God governs the universe He [must have] some great end, including an indefinite number of subordinate ends, toward which it is directed, and He must control the sequence of all events, so as to render certain the accomplishment of all his purposes" (Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology / Volume 1: Theology. [Peabody, Mass.]: Hendrickson, 1999. pp. 581-582). "All things happen in time as God eternally knew they would. The final result and the ways and means leading to it are established in God's providence" (p. 379).

It is widely accepted that God's providence covers the physical world. God has a "reason for the creation of the human race (Gen. 1:26); the scattering of the peoples (Gen. 11); the determination of times and boundaries of places where they would live (Acts 17:26); the differentiation in gifts, talents, ranks, social position, degrees of wealth, and so forth (Deut. 32:8; Prov. 22:2; Matt. 25:15); and even the inequality and diversity of gifts in the church (1 Cor. 4:7; 12:7-11; Rom. 12:4ff)…[also for example] gender, longevity, rank, social position, wealth (etc.)—they are all attributable to God's good pleasure and God's good pleasure alone" (pp. 375-376).

God's providence extends to the moral world as well. The natural (physical) world and the moral (metaphysical) world cannot be separated as the two are inextricably linked. However, Pelagianism has resisted this point, seeking to separate the natural from the moral, making the latter completely independent of God—with a view to preserve human freedom (p. 376), but at the cost of limiting God's knowledge and will (p. 377). This is especially true when concerning the eternal destiny of humans. Predestination, after all, is really just a special case of providence. The temporary things in the natural world have direct impact on the eternal state. As such, Pelagianism distorts the divine counsel (see point #2 above), reducing God's foreknowledge to his foreseeing the actions of mankind in advance, and his predestination as a reaction to their merits—rewarding eternal blessings for persevering faithfulness or meting out punishment for unbelieving disobedience (p. 377). This erroneous view has unfortunately been adopted by many within the Christian church (e.g., the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Remonstrant [Arminian], Anabaptist, and Methodist). Adherents to this view claim that God has provided sufficient salvific grace to everyone and it is each person's duty to make proper use of it; they propose "the theory that the grace of faith is granted to those who make the proper use of initial grace [as a "merit of congruity"]… [because] it is fair for God to grant faith and forgiveness to those who do their best" (p. 381). However this notion "immediately clashes with reality. Throughout human history only a small segment of humanity has been familiar with the gospel. In fact, in the history of humankind, grace is not universal but particular [i.e., selectively given to some but not all]" (p. 380). To those that believe that grace is given equally, "the question arises why the gospel is preached to one and not to another. Why is one person born in a Chrisitan [family] and another in a pagan home?… [and] why [does] one person [hear] the gospel and another is denied the message" (pp. 380-381). For the Pelagian, these are unanswerable.

In response to the Pelagian error, it should be pointed out that grace is often given to those that appear least able to make good use of the initial grace that they are given. There are numerous examples of the Bible where "children have an advantage over the wise and understanding, and publicans and sinners enter the kingdom of heaven before the Pharisees and scribes (cf. Luke 10:21; Matt. 21:31)" (p.382). As such, there is really no evidence in Scripture or reality for the so-called "merit of congruity."

13. God's Glory is the Final Goal of His Council: The ultimate end of everything God does is to glorify himself. He reveals his perfections for all to see, both the salvation of some, and in the judgment of others (p. 386). The ultimate end of all things that God does—his mercy to the elect and his justice to the reprobate—is rooted in his own glory. "Creation and fall, preservation and governance, sin and grace, Adam and Christ—all contribute, each in his or her own way… to the honour and glorification of God" (p. 405). God desires to manifest his perfections; all his works ad extra are subservient to this purpose. (p. 389). He will continue to manifest the fullness of his perfections in eternity: "for in heaven, too, his justice and holiness are radiantly present, and even in hell there is still some evidence of his mercy and goodness" (p. 389; cf. pp. 398-399). "The state of glory… will be rich and splendid beyond all description. We look for a new heaven, a new earth, a new humanity, a restored creation, an ever-progressing development never again disturbed by sin… to furnish a new humanity with ever new reasons for the worship and glorification of God" (pp. 391-392; cf. p. 398). As we try to continue to study God's eternal decrees, we must never forget that God does everything chiefly for himself, to bring glory to his name. Soli deo gloria!

Side note: There are two small typos in this chapter that you may want to mark down / correct in your books. On page 359, paragraph 2, the reference to the Belgic Confession, article 18 should be article 16 instead; and on page 360, paragraph 1, the reference to the Westminster Confession, chapter 4.8 should be chapter 3.8 instead.


message 7: by Alex, Moderator (last edited Jun 13, 2014 10:30PM) (new)

Alex | 356 comments Mod
The decrees of God. At tonight's meeting, we covered the divine counsel and one of the things we discussed was the order of God's decrees. Here are two charts that I think may be helpful for your study:

1. William Perkins' Golden Chain of Salvation illustrated [PDF] [GIF]
2. John Bunyan's Map Showing the Order and Causes of Salvation and Damnation [PDF]


message 8: by Alex, Moderator (new)

Alex | 356 comments Mod
For a really good treatment of the topic of "double predestination," I recommend watching the following episode of CrossTV (narrated by Pastor Mark Kielar): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Sawg2PX2aI. (CrossTV is a reformed ministry that I highly recommend).


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