WCF, Chapter 3
God’s plan includes all things – everything! Nothing is too insignificant or complex to be included. God’s decree is not contingent upon anything, except His own decree. God decress the outcomes of human events. God decrees that some will be obedient and some will remain in their sin.
He shows mercy to whom he shows mercy and hardens whom he hardens. In order to display his grace, his power and control over sin and salvation, as well as to humble men’s hearts, who quickly make their obedience the cause and not the result of God’s mercies. God decrees the means. Section 6 refers to calling, repentance, justification, sanctification etc. These are addressed individually throughout the rest of the Confession.
Today we may wonder If God has elected certain men to salvation, then why pray, preach, witness, etc.? Right, this was asked last week.
The answer is that God does not just predestine the end, which is, for example, the salvation of Smith. He also predestined, as a necessary part of the whole process, the varied preconditions and means which were necessary to bring Smith to the point of salvation.
These preconditions included being fallen in Adam, redeemed by Christ, and called and kept by the Holy Spirit. The elect have all the preconditions preordained for them, and those who are not elect do not participate in the foreordained salvificpreconditions. All of this can be applied to why Jones remains in his sinful nature. Jones was likewise predestined and the preconditions and means of his reprobation and passing over were foreordained. This is double predestination.
There is equality in the predestining of all men, but there is an important distinction. Jones earns his damnation, for the wages of sin are death. Smith earns nothing. You can’t have the predestined group of saved over here and ignore everyone else. Everyone was predestined; some to life and some to remain in their fallen state. We are here taught that salvation shall be effectually applied by the Holy Spirit to all those who were chosen of God and redeemed by Christ; and that it shall be effectually applied to them alone. There is a lot of mystery in this chapter. Just as there was when we discussed the Triune God and His attributes. Some doctrines are difficult to fully comprehend. We must prayerfully consider the tough truths the divines have laid before us, we must approach them with humility but also with confidence. God has revealed much to us and as we strive to understand these truths we must acknowledge they are right and true.
God’s eternal decree ought not to be considered apart from the mediatorial work of Christ. The Confession itself points this out in chapter 3, section 5, where it says “God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to His eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of His will, hath chosen, in Christ, unto everlasting glory.” What the divines understood by this statement, was that God’s eternal decree for our salvation is intimately bound up with the person and work of Christ. Christology and predestination go hand-in-hand. Christ is the Elect One of God, and because we are united to Christ in baptism, by faith, and in the Supper, we too are the elect of God in Christ Jesus.
God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass (Eph. 1:11; Rom. 11:33; Heb. 6:17; Rom. 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; Matt. 17:12; Acts 4:27–28; John 19:11; Prov. 16:33).
We have covered a number of these aspects already. God’s plans are eternal. He does not react to events as one caught off guard.
The concise definition of the word decree can be found in the Shorter Catechism question 7; 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.
All things that come to pass are the product of infinite wisdom.
All things are ordered by God, who does nothing rashly. From the creature’s point of view, some things might have been better. But from the point of view of the great Purpose which swallows up everything else, that is to say, the Glory of God, all is best. If we do not see it this way, it is our own ignorance at work.
No decree of God can be unrighteous, but all are just and holy. His sacred and divine will which is the standard of the decree is also the rule of all things. The Lord wills things because they are good in His sight and this is done by one who is not accountable to any man but by one whose will is supreme and holy and cannot do wrong. It is therefore impudent boldness and wickedness, for us to find fault with Him.
He has decreed everything that comes to pass. Nothing is too big or small to be part of God’s plan. He is the author of creation and of all human events.
God is not the author of sin. God is the author of Sin in the sense that he is the storyteller. But with this statement we must tread very carefully. The divines’ use of this word meaning God is sinless. In fact he is incapable of committing sin. But sin is a created thing and therefore set in the world by the creator.
Deut 32:4 states that “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.
In Acts 4:27 we find the other side of God’s decrees; “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, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.”
Here is the use of the word “predestined,” regarding wicked men. There was dispute among the divines as to whether predestination was only a word of grace; used for the righteous and not the wicked. But its use here shows that God plans include both the acts of both the wicked and the righteous.It says that God planned the crucifixion and the crucifixion was the work of evil men. The logic is here obvious.
God is the Creator of a world which is now full of sin, and yet He cannot be charged with the guilt of it. This confession says that God ordains that sinful action y will take place, and yet He is not the author of sinful action y. There is no escape; if God is the Creator, then He is responsible for the presence of sinful action y.
A few chapters earlier in Acts, Peter charges his audience with this same sin, even while he affirms God’s control over it. 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.
The death of Jesus was determined by God and it was accomplished by Lawless men. God uses evil to accomplish His purpose. In His governing of the world, God caused all things to come to pass, including the wickedness of creatures. He does this without in any way defiling himself.
This is the foundation of a precious truth in the word; that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. In a world full of sin, God could not make such a promise to His people unless He had complete control over all evil. If He didn’t, then that autonomous evil could harm a Christian, apart from God’s plan.
This view does not make God the master puppeteer. We will be covering this more thoroughly in the chapter on the Free will. Suffice it to say at this point that what the Lord foreordained was a world full of free choices. He not only ordained that a man would be in the ice cream store choosing one of thirty-one flavors, He also decreed which flavor would be chosen.
But this is not all; He ordained that the cookie dough ice cream would be chosen by this man freely. God ordains non-coercively. This makes no sense to most people, but how many basic doctrines do make sense?
We do not understand how God made the moon from nothing any more than how He determined my actions today without annihilating me. But He does. Remember, the point being made here is not that divine sovereignty is merely consistent with secondary freedom, but rather the first cause establishes the second cause.
Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions (Acts 15:18; 1 Sam. 23:11–12; Matt 11:21, 23), yet hath He not decreed any thing because He foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions (Rom. 9:11, 13, 16, 18).
God does not peer down the corridors of time, see what is happening, and then decree that it will happen. This would make God nothing more than a cosmic consenter, merely acknowledging things outside his control. Such a belief robs God of his dominion and minimizes His power and holiness.
Conditional decrees are inconstant with the infinite wisdom of God. They are also inconsistent with the independence of God, making His decrees depend upon the free will or agency of His creatures. This would of course defy everything else we have learned about our sovereign Lord.
By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels (1 Tim. 5:21; Matt. 25:41) are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death (Rom. 9:22–23; Eph. 1:5–6; Prov. 16:4).
This section teaches what is commonly known as double predestination. God has eternally decreed the eternal salvation of all the elect, as well as the eternal damnation of the entire reprobate population.
All those who end up saved and in heaven on the last day, God has eternally decreed that all and every one of these individuals will be there. All those who end up damned and in hell on the last day, God has eternally decreed that all and every one of these individuals will be there as well.
We may be surprised on the last by who ends up in heaven and who ends up in hell, but God won’t be. Not only is God not surprised now by who repents and believes on His Son, Jesus Christ; neither will He be surprised on the last day by whosoever will be in His eternal presence, and who won’t. God both knows and decrees all those who will be in heaven, and God both knows and decrees all those who will be in hell.
The use of different verbs here is significant. God’s predestination to life is assigned to men who are in a state of death. God’s decision to leave someone in his death is different in kind from His decision to remove someone from that death.
The divines also understood the big picture when it comes to the decrees of God. That is, that God is seeking to manifest (unveil) His glory to His creatures. God has decreed whatsoever comes to pass so that He could reveal His glory to us in such a way that we could see it, taste it, touch it, live it out, etc.
We need to keep in mind that God’s eternal decrees are secret and unknowable, unless and until God manifest them to us in some way, shape, or form. And this is exactly the point of all of history, from creation to consummation, to manifest (or unveil) the secret decrees of God.
This pertains to the most seemingly insignificant event in history. Just consider what you did or did not have for breakfast: God, in His eternal counsel, decreed for that to happen from before the foundation of the world.
God is not selecting individuals for eternal bliss or eternal pain from some morally neutral place. We are all of us condemned sinners, and the election to life is an election to pardon.
We do not say that there is no difference between the elect and non-elect, in fact all men are elect, just some to death and some to life. We say that the difference is the result of God’s sovereign discrimination rather than the cause of it. Too many Christians put the cart before the horse for the sake of feeling better about themselves or out of delusion, the sin of self aggrandizement, they are desperate to feel better about themselves and their sinful hearts.
These angels and men, thus predestinated, and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished (2 Tim. 2:19; John 13:18).
The Arminians admit that contingent events, such as the determinations and actions of men, are foreseen by God, but they also deny absolute and unconditional election and maintain that whatever God has decreed respecting men is founded on the foresight of their conduct.
Socinians deny the certain forethought of future contingencies, such as the will of free agents: and therefore, the only decree respecting the salvation of men which they will admit to have been made from eternity, and to be unchangeable, is a general conditional decree, that such as believe and obey the gospel shall be saved. Therefore a special decree concerning some persons is made in time; at the moment persons perform the condition contained in the general decree.
In opposition to both of these views, our confession teaches that God made choice of, and predestined a certain and definite number of individuals to everlasting life; that He predestined them unto life before the foundation of the world was laid; that in so doing, he acted according to His sovereign will, and was not influenced by the foresight of their faith or good works, or perseverance in either of them; and that this purpose is immutable (not able to change), it being impossible that those elected unto life should perish.
Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to His eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of His will, hath chosen, in Christ, unto everlasting glory (Eph. 1:4, 9, 11; Rom 8:30; 2 Tim. 1:9; 1 Thess. 5:9), out of His mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith, or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving Him thereunto (Rom. 9:11, 13, 16; Eph. 1:4,9): and all to the praise of His glorious grace (Eph. 1:6, 12).
This is a fine statement of unconditional election, which is entirely different from arbitrary or capricious election.
The truth being insisted upon here is that God has no reasons found in us for His election. He has many reasons, all of them good, for His selection. He does what He does according to His secret counsel and the good pleasure of His will.
Further, the choice springs from His grace and love. This means that God has compelling reasons for election—it is not a question of eeny, meeny, miney, mo. But the good reasons do not include foresight of our faith, good works, stamina in either, or anything else that might be found in the creature which would enable that creature to boast in anything other than God’s goodness and mercy.
As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath He, by the eternal and most free purpose of His will, foreordained all the means thereunto (1 Pet. 1:2; Eph. 1:4–5; 2:10; 2 Thess. 2:13). Wherefore, they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ (1 Thess. 5:9–10; Tit. 2:14), are effectually called unto faith in Christ by His Spirit working in due season, are justified, adopted, sanctified (Rom. 8:30; Eph. 1:5; 2 Thess. 2:13), and kept by His power, through faith, unto salvation (1 Pet. 1:5). Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only (John 17:9; Rom. 8:28–39; John 6:64–65; 10:26; 8:47; 1 John 2:19).
This Section of the Confession teaches that God in determining the ends he intends to accomplish…at the same time determines the means by which he intends to accomplish them,” that God had determined that the elect shall be saved (ordinarily) by “effectual calling, justification, adoption, sanctification and perseverance in grace,” and that those for whom the divinely appointed means of grace are lacking are not among the elect (ordinarily).
We are here taught that salvation shall be effectually applied by the Holy Spirit to all those who were chosen of God and redeemed by Christ; and that it shall be effectually applied to them alone.
The elect are all in due time, by the power of the Spirit, effectually called unto faith in Christ. ‘All that the Father giveth me shall come to me’ (john 6:37). ‘As many as were ordained to eternal life believed’ (Acts 13:48). They were all justified, adopted, sanctified and shall be enabled to persevere in grace, and at length their salvation shall be consummated in glory. ‘Whom he did predestinate, them he also called; and whom he called, them he also justified; and whom he justified, them he also glorified’ (Rom, 8:30).
The rest of mankind God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of His own will, whereby He extendeth or with holdeth mercy, as He pleaseth, for the glory of His sovereign power over His creatures, to pass by; and to ordain them to dishonour and wrath for their sin, to the praise of His glorious justice (Matt. 11:25–26; Rom. 9:17–18, 21–22; 2 Tim. 2:19–20; Jude 4; 1 Pet. 2:8).
If this is done according to the unsearchable counsel of His own will, then we should not try to search it out. We may assert it, because the Bible does, but cannot plumb the depths of His counsel at this point. God may withhold mercy without injustice. If mercy could be demanded as a matter of justice, then it would no longer be mercy.
Mercy and grace can never be demanded as a right. Why does God pass by some of His creatures, leaving them in their sin? He does this in order to manifest His justice, which is glorious. In order for justice to be manifested, it is necessary that sinners fall under dishonor and wrath. In a world without sin, two of God’s most glorious attributes—His justice and His mercy—would go undisplayed. This, obviously, would be horrible.
This is St. Paul’s argument. Rom. 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, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—
The doctrine of this high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care (Rom. 9:20; 11:33; Deut. 29:29), that men, attending the will of God revealed in His Word, and yielding obedience thereunto, may, from the certainty of their effectual vocation, be assured of their eternal election (2 Pet. 1:10). So shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God (Eph. 1:6; Rom. 11:32); and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation to all that sincerely obey the Gospel (Rom. 11:5–6, 20; 2 Pet. 1:10; Rom. 8:33; Luke 10:20).
The Doctrine of predestination is, indeed, a high mystery – one of the deep things of God, which our feeble intellects cannot fully comprehend. In our inquiries about it, we ought to repress a vain curiosity, and not attempt to be wise above what is written.This doctrine must be handled with special judgment and prudence, avoiding human speculations, and adhering to what is plainly revealed in the scriptures. When prudently discussed, it will neither lead to licentiousness nor to despair; but will eminently conduce to the knowledge, establishment and comfort of Christians.
Election, then, gives no discouragement to any man in reference to obeying the calls and embracing the offers of the gospel. The invitations of the gospel are not addressed to men as elect, but as sinners ready to perish; all are under the same obligation to comply with these invitations, and the encouragement from Christ is the same to all – ‘Him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out.
The doctrine of election must have a sanctifying and consoling influence on all who sincerely obey the gospel. It is calculated to inspire them with sentiments of reverence and gratitude towards God; to humble their souls in the dust before the eternal Sovereign; to excite them to diligence in the discharge of duty; to afford them strong consolation under the temptations and trials of life; and to animate them with a lively hope of eternal glory.
Liberty and a sovereign God
teaches us that the finite mind wants to reject the existence of one or both because it cannot reconcile them. God does no violence to the will of free agents. God sets bounds. Finitude is a state existing within boundaries.
The key to understanding this is Christ. The God-man; the predestinator and the one who prayed in Gethsemane to remove the cup of which He was about to drink. He said to the Father; your will be done and not mine. Christ said he came to do the will of the Father. All of this is a great mystery to us and yet man likes to mess with scripture and press this notion of pure, sovereign individual liberty. Jesus was a free agent, yet his will was bound up in the glorifying and honoring of God. We will do well to imitate Him.
We mere mortals scoff at the sovereignty of God because of our precious little wills, which we want to remain autonomous. Man likes to speak of his will as free, O.K., can willing yourself to fly to the moon, make it so? No. There is a difference between ability and liberty. Your will has boundaries, including physical ones and most importantly, the boundary of your heart; the wellspring of all that you do.
We readily accept that there are limitations to our will, like willing our selves to Mars, yet we struggle with the notion that our wills are subservient to the condition of our heart. The Bible clearly teaches that man is free to do good or evil; that he is at liberty do either, but that he is able, only to do evil, because of his fallen condition.
Matthew 12:33 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.
With sin’s entrance man lost the ability to do good, not the liberty. This was due to the fact that one sin, as God warned, was sufficient to destroy the pure nature, the source of the good fruit. After the fall man remained free to do either good or evil, but he was able to do only evil.
The difference between the unregenerate man and regenerate man is one of ability, not liberty. Both are free to do good, but only one is able to do good. And he is able because God the Holy Spirit has given him a new heart. First and second causes of free choices and an example. A concept that is impossible to understand comprehensively. Suffice it to say the Reformed and Arminian positions both affirm the first and second causal relationship.
Note we are talking about creatures. There is no first cause establishing God’s choices and actions because he is God; His choices are free and ultimate. Now, the Arminian believes that God looks down the corridor of time and sees:
Man choosing God
Confirms that choice.
Notice which is the first cause and which is the second. God’s choices are established by men and not the other way around in this view.
The Reformed view holds that:
God freely chooses
Man freely chooses
There is mystery here, but the converse is that God is dependent on Man in His ability to decree. Impossible.
Here is an example to clarify all of this: When Judas went to betray the lord, and when Pilate capitulated to the crowds, the Father was not wringing His hands in hopeless dismay. Angels were not running around heaven yelling, “plan B.”
Acts 4:27 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, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.
It was the will of God that Jesus die the way he did – for salvation of sinners. But it was also the will of Pilate, and the will of the Jews, who were all fully blameworthy for what they did. Nevertheless, it was the hand and purpose of God that determined beforehand what was to be done.
These difficult doctrines are best understood in their overlapping reality in the story of the Gospels. It was the Lord’s desire. We can read the story knowing it was all decreed and yet see what Pilate’s, the Jews, the Gentiles, as well as Judas’ motivations and decisions were and that they were freely made. You see the story unfold and they are all motivated people, expressing and acting upon the desires of their hearts, to the purpose of God’s Decree. God providentially controls everything. And He does so without violating the responsibility of His creatures; that is what it means when the divines stated that He does no violence to the will of men.