What are the Decree's? When asked this question one person suggested
they were an Indian tribe. This is true however we need to give some serious
thought to another group of decrees. The decrees of God.
We should up front know that the term only appears in our New Testament
one time and it is used in relation to a decree or order from Caesar. (Lu
BASIS FOR THE DOCTRINE:
1. I Pet 1:20 mentions in relation to Christ "Who verily was foreordained
before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times
for you." (see Rev 13:8 also)
The Trinity arranged some things that were going to occur as they contemplated
creation and all of its ramifications. Christ's crucifixion and other items
were set in eternity past.
2. Rev 17:8 states there were names in the book of life before the foundation
of the world. That is a whole study in itself. Are the names of the redeemed
there before the foundation of the world, or is it the names of all mankind?
Are names added, or are they taken away?
3. Matt 13:35 states that there are things kept secret from the foundation
of the world. "That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet,
saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have
been kept secret from the foundation of the world." Christ revealed some
of these things when He spoke of the kingdom in mystery form. There may
be things that are yet to be revealed.
4. The kingdom has been set from the foundation of the world. Matt 25:34.
It was set and it will come to pass at the scheduled time and circumstance.
The prophets were not coming up with new information for the future. They
were just revealing what the Lord had shown them, revealing what was set
5. There was a choosing before the foundation of the world according
to Eph. 1:4. The different items that we have already mentioned are part
of the decrees of God.
6. Heb 1:10 mentions that the Lord set the foundations of the world.
The above items will indicate a basis for the doctrine of a decree of
God that involves several parts.
The first question is this, "Is there one decree or numerous decrees?"
The Westminster Shorter Catechism mentions that "The decrees of God
are his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, whereby
for his own glory He hath forordained whatsoever comes to pass." (Hodge,
Charles; Gross, Edward N. Ed.; "SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY"; Grand Rapids: Baker
Book House, 1988, p 535)
THE ONE DECREE POSITION:
The decree/decrees are the overall purpose and plan of God by which
He has determined all that He desires to come to pass.
This discussion does not concern any of His attributes - it is all outside
of Himself. God's decree has as its primary purpose the glory of God. Eph.
1:6, 12, 14 ". . .praise of his glory. . . ." Thus, the decree is doxological,
and not soteriological or dispensational.
Scripture is plain on the fact that God is sovereign and is free to
do whatever He pleases, as well as whatever He wills. He set all in motion
for His own good purpose.
God decreed in two manners: DIRECTIVE WILL: He decreed to certain ends:
The death of Christ, our salvation, and future judgments. PERMISSIVE WILL:
He also decreed to allow certain things: Adam's sin, unbeliever's crimes,
and falling asleep while reading boring theology books.
Dr. Houghton of Denver Baptist Bible College suggested that the decree
was "His eternal purpose (plan) according to the counsel of His own will,
whereby, for His own glory, He has foreordained whatso-ever comes to pass."
The one decree position declares that God's plan is in effect and all
is based upon that fact. All things, His promises, His prophecy, and His
dealings with man.
Bancroft seems to hold to one overall plan in his "ELEMENTAL THEOLOGY"
where he entitles it "THE COUNSEL OF GOD," using the terminology of Eph.
1:11. (He has a lengthy discussion on this topic on p 106ff.)
THE ONE DECREE - BUT SEVERAL DIVISIONS WITHIN IT POSITION:
Chafer in his "MAJOR BIBLE THEMES" states, "The decree of God includes
those events which God does Himself and also includes all that God accomplishes
through natural law, over which He is completely sovereign. More difficult
to comprehend is the fact that His sovereign decree also extends to all
the acts of men, which are included in His eternal plan." (Taken from the
book, MAJOR BIBLE THEMES by Lewis Sperry Chafer and John F. Walvoord. First
edition copyright 1926, 1953 by Dallas Theological Seminary. Revised edition
copyright 1974 by Dallas Theological Seminary. Used by permission of Zondervan
Publishing House. p 43)
While he speaks of "The decree" singular he also holds to, "subdivisions
such as His decree to create, His decree to preserve the world, His decree
of providence, or His wise guidance of the universe." (Taken from the book,
MAJOR BIBLE THEMES by Lewis Sperry Chafer and John F. Walvoord. First edition
copyright 1926, 1953 by Dallas Theological Seminary. Revised edition copyright
1974 by Dallas Theological Seminary. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing
House. p 44)
The interesting part is that in Walvoord's revision of the seven volume
set, this section is entitled "DIVINE DECREES" - plural.
Pardington quotes Strong, "By the decrees of God we mean that eternal
plan by which God has rendered certain all the events of the universe,
past, present, and future." (Pardington, Rev. George P. Ph.D.; "OUTLINE
STUDIES IN CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE"; Harrisburg, PA: Christian Publications,
He lists two areas of decrees: First decrees: Nature, creation and preservation,
and Second decrees: providence and redemption.
THE PLURAL DECREE POSITION:
Theissen has a very detailed discussion on page 147ff. He holds to the
directive/permissive decree thought of the previous author.
We see by one of his comments, he is also a one purpose - plural decree
man. "The decrees are sometimes represented as one decree." (he quotes
parts of Rom. 8:28 and Eph. 1:11) "In each case it is one purpose. Though
to us the decrees appear to be many purposes, to the divine mind they are
in reality but one great all - inclusive purpose." (Thiessen, Henry C.;
"LECTURES IN SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY"; Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1949,
There is little difference between these positions, other than the definition
of terms. All view God as having one overall purpose or decree, which contains
all the subheadings that are normally discussed.
FACTS ABOUT THE DECREES:
1. God has a plan - singular. Eph. 1:11. This might be likened to a
large diamond. One stone.
2. God has many aspects to that plan or purpose. It is not just one
big blob out there. It has many facets for our examination and learning.
In relation to the diamond illustration, the plan or purpose is the stone,
while the facets and sides make up the individual, distinct parts of the
Pardington lists eight such facets. a. The stability of the universe,
Ps. 119:89-91; b. The outward circumstances of nations, Acts 17:26; c.
The length of human life, Job. 14:5; d. The mode of our death, Jo. 21:19;
e. The free acts of men both good and evil, Is. 44:28; Eph. 2:10; Gen.
50:20; I Ki. 12:15; Lu. 22:22; Acts 2:23; 4:27, 28; Rom. 9:17; I Pet. 2:8;
Rev. 17:17; f. The salvation of believers, I Cor. 2:7; Eph. 1:3,10,11;
g. The establishment of Christ's Kingdom, Ps. 2:7,8; I Cor. 15:23; h. The
work of Christ and His people establishing it, Phil. 2:12,13; Rev. 5:7.
3. Other authors discuss a different set of decrees and how they relate
to one another.
They normally list seven decrees and discuss the order in which they
came about. Many theology books only discuss the first four, due to the
fact that most agree on the final three.
There are groupings of people that hold to different orders of occurrence.
I would like to list two listings of information from two different authors
before we get into the groupings.
The decrees that are listed are those to elect, to create, to allow
the fall, and to provide salvation.
SUPRA INFRA SUB ARMINIAN ________________________________________________________________ ELECT CREATE CREATE SIMILAR TO CREATE FALL FALL INFRA EXCEPT FALL SALVATION SALVATION ELECT IS BASED SALVATION ELECT ELECT ON FOREKNOWLEDGE APPLY SALV. APPLY SALV. APPLY SALV.
(Walvoord, John F. editor; "LEWIS SPERRY CHAFER SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY";
Wheaton: Victor Books, Vol. I & II, 1988, p 104-106)
SUPRA-LAPSARIAN INFRA-LAPSARIAN SUB-LAPSARIAN _______________________________________________________________ 1. SAVE SOME CREATE CREATE REPROBATE THE REST 2. CREATE PERMIT THE FALL PERMIT THE FALL 3. PERMIT THE FALL ELECTION ELECTION 4. PROVIDE SALVATION PROVIDE SALVATION PROV. SALVATION FOR THE ELECT FOR THE ELECT FOR ALL
(Theissen, p 343)
The Supra-lapsarianism listing is usually identified with Hyper-Calvinism.
Supra-lapsarian is from two terms "supra" meaning "before or above" and
"lapsus" meaning "fall." These people hold that God elected some to salvation
and the rest of mankind to hell. He then decreed the creation, to allow
the fall and the provision of salvation.
Infra-lapsarian is from "infra" meaning "below" or "subsequent" and
"lapsa" meaning "fall." They see God decreeing to create, then allow the
fall, provide salvation for the elect, and finally to elect.
The Sub-lapsarian holds the same as the infra, with the one exception
that salvation was provided for all of mankind, not just the elect.
I might just mention one teaching that you might run across in your
study. Amyraldian is the teaching from Moise Amyraut (1596-1664). He is
listed as a semi-Calvinist.
Buswell believes that Calvin was probably an Infra from what he sees
in his work. Calvin does not discuss the issue specifically but does have
information relating to it.
A possible answer to some of this is the idea of having one decree.
It would eliminate this discussion. God just decreed one decree all at
once, and involved in that decree were all the facets and parts.
If you like a sequence then the Sub position would, I believe, be the
majority view among fundamentalists. That is not based on research, but
observation. It seems to be most consistent with the idea of Christ dieing
for the world. Walvoord, however (p 162) mentions that the infra is the
desirable over the sub. He mentions this as the "moderate Calvinist" view.
The decree, or plan in God's mind was immediate and complete - without
sequence. The decree, however in its different parts must occur in time
as a sequence. Pardington mentions a similar thought. "To our view the
decrees are many, because they are worked out successively in time; but
in their nature and from the divine standpoint they are one. What a plan
is to an architect, that, so to speak, the decrees are to God." (Pardington,
Augustine (Confess., XII. xv. as quoted in Shedd, William G.T.; "DOGMATIC
THEOLOGY"; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984, p 395) "God willeth not one thing
now, and another anon; but once, and at once, and always, he willeth all
things that he willeth; not again and again, nor now this, now that; nor
willeth afterwards, what before he willed not, nor willeth not, what before
he willed; because such a will is mutable; and no mutable thing is eternal."
If the decree is the overall plan of God then there are a number of
terms that can be studied in the Scripture along this line: decrees, counsel,
ordination, good pleasure, predestinate, and election.
1. This thought of decrees seems very much like fatalism in its presentation;
however it is strongly held within this view that man has and uses his
free will - thus, dispelling any hint of fatalism.
2. This also seems to some, to show that God is responsible for evil.
This is not true, in that He allowed evil to develop, however He had nothing
to do with developing it Himself.
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE DOCTRINE:
We need to know a little about the plan of God that we so often talk
about. The plan of God was set before the foundation of the world and as
part of God's activities we should find it of interest and importance.
1. He is sovereign and nothing is a surprise to Him, nor is anything
going to happen outside of His plan. In short you can't jump out of His
plan for your life and ruin everything. We may stray from that plan, but
if we are attempting to walk with Him there is no way that we can ruin
His plan for us, indeed, His plan for us includes those DUMB side trips
that we so often seem to take.
2. His plan will come to pass! The Devil will not stop what God wants
to do. We will not stop what God wants to do. He will bring all things
to pass as planned before the foundation of the world.
3. He has a specific plan for your life! No matter what happens - even
if you run into roadblocks - He is controlling, even the road blocks.
4. Knowing that God has a plan for each of us, and knowing what He has
done for us, it is then logical that we should do all we can for Him. In
His devotional, Spurgeon mentions this thought and puts it into proper
place with God's sovereign rule. "O anxious gazer, look not so much at
the battle below, for there thou shalt be enshrouded in smoke, and amazed
with garments rolled in blood; but lift thine eyes yonder where the Savior
lives and pleads, for while He intercedes, the cause of God is safe. Let
us fight as if it all depended upon us, but let us look up and know that
all depends upon Him." (Spurgeon, Charles H.; "MORNING AND EVENING"; Mclean,
VA: Macdonald Pulishing Co., p 223)