The Gospel 8: Eternal Decrees
By: Deji Yesufu
Predestination is a very difficult doctrine to teach. If I had my way, I would not include it in this series, but I will be doing my readers a great disservice if I do not touch on it. Besides, the doctrine of God’s eternal decrees is a direct product of the doctrine of grace and the blessing of justification by faith, and if scriptures teach these doctrines, even if as introductory notes, we also ought to teach them. We submit to the doctrine of God’s eternal decrees not because we understand it fully but because the Bible teaches it, and we simply echo the words of scriptures.
John Calvin did not invent the doctrine of predestination. Mighty theologians like Augustine and even Thomas Aquinas had taught this doctrine long before him. But during the Protestant reformation, it was Calvin that attempted to describe it in these terms: double predestination. Calvin said that God had destined some to eternal life and others to eternal damnation. He explained that these were the clear teachings of Apostle Paul in Romans 9. Calvin had hardly been dead before trouble began in the Reformed Churches of Netherlands, where Arminius Jacobus and his followers challenged the doctrines of eternal decrees and sought to make a case for God’s name. They claimed that a doctrine of double predestination ended up making God the author of sin and it was their duty to protect God’s name. The Synod of Dort silenced the heresies of Arminianism. But the words were already out and from that time on the great doctrines of grace were challenged in the churches. By the close of the 19th century, the great Baptist Preacher, C. H. Spurgeon, was fighting on two major fronts. He was defending the gospel against liberals who sought to find a middle ground between Darwinism and the Bible. Then he was also seeking to stave off the unhealthy influence of Arminianism on Protestant England. The battle was fought under the banner of the “Downgrade Controversy”. The fight for the gospel was too much for this great preacher. It claimed his life in 1892 and he passed on the baton to others to continue the contention for the faith that was once delivered. There is no gospel preaching anywhere until we understand the character of God that decrees from eternity past.
In earlier sections of this series, we have considered our Lord’s words as written by Matthew:
“… I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes…” (Matthew 11:25)
“These things” in the words of our Lord Jesus are things pertaining to our salvation. Jesus is affirming that God chooses those he reveals these truths to, while again blinding others to them. This reveals to us the concept of God’s freedom of will to carry out actions. The whole concept of grace is premised upon this: God choosing to do certain things for some and choosing not to do the same for others. Let us consider other scriptures we have seen earlier:
“No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:44)
Hopefully the words of Jesus above are beginning to help us see these matters clearly. Paul quite boldly makes these points even clearer in his epistles. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes:
“According as (God) hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.” (Ephesians 1:4)
Paul radically points out the fact that while God chooses, he does not determine this choice in our time. He did it long before the earth began. This is what is regarded as the doctrine of eternal decrees. This doctrine teaches the concept of salvation as God the Father decreeing salvation for the elect before the foundation of the earth; God the Son coming into the world to die for the elect and rising from the dead for their justification; and God the Holy Spirit making this salvation effective in time. This doctrine helps us to see the work of the Trinity in making salvation effectual to sinners. It helps the saints to realize the security of their salvation: long before they did any good or bad, God had decreed salvation for the elects. This doctrine is a great source of comfort for God’s people.
As Paul argued out the doctrines of grace in the book of Romans, he naturally needed to culminate the discussion in the matters of election, predestination, and decrees. In Chapter eight of Romans, he had made the suggestion:
“Moreover whom (God) did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. What shall we say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?… Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.” (Romans 8:30-33)
In other words, the concept of Predestination, the acts of God in decreeing the salvation of men from before the world began, results in the effectual calling of the sinner, the justification of the sinner, and the glorification of the sinner. The doctrine of grace states exclusively that God chooses to bestow his kindness on whomever he wishes to and this grace is not premised on what anyone has done. It is premised on God’s decision to elect some to salvation and to overlook others. The Apostle Paul anticipated the kind of modern protests against these doctrines like we hear today, so he wrote in the next chapter:
“What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.” (Romans 9:14)
We can rest our minds that the doctrine of eternal decrees does not cast God as the originator of evil. God is not unrighteous in decreeing that some will be saved and others will not. But the protest still continues:
“Thou wilt say then unto me, why doth he find fault? For who hath resisted his will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, why hast thou made me thus? ” (Romans 9:19-20)
Paul goes on to argue that in the wisdom of God, God has made some the object of his wrath (verse 22) and others the object of his mercies (verse 23). This is Predestination; this is the eternal decree. And on these statements the doctrine of grace stands or falls.
When people argue that God cannot elect some and damn others, they forget that scriptures has been describing this phenomenon from the beginning of creation. God makes the world. Adam and Eve fall. God magnanimously steps in and makes an offer of salvation to Eve and her seed (Genesis 3:15). He also kills an animal and clothes Adam. Some regard this action as the first sacrifice of atonement for sin. God goes on to elect Noah from the nations and destroy the rest of the world. After Noah, God chooses Abraham and says that he will bless the world through his seed. God elects Jacob above Esau, stating without mincing words “Jacob I have loved and Esau I have hated” (Romans 9:13). God hates Esau and loves Jacob long before either of them does anything good or bad. Then God chooses Israel from the nations of the earth and calls the people his own. He decides to bring the Messiah through Israel. And following this, salvation comes to the gentile world also. Despite Israel’s rebellion at the moment, God’s salvation is reaching to all nations of the earth. But not everyone is saved in the gentile world. Even at this point, God reserves his exclusive right to choose some to salvation and leave others to perish.
Can we offer an answer to this dilemma? The answer is “no”, but we can suggest reasons why these doctrines must be taught in the churches.
First, the Apostle Paul taught it. And he taught the doctrines of eternal decrees as a direct consequence of justification by faith. We may not understand every detail of it. We may not be able to answer all the logical questions that flow from it but we must teach it and we must answer our traducers by saying with Paul: “…who are thou o man to reply God…?”
Second, we would not appreciate the concept of grace until we understand where it came from. Yes, indeed, it was grace that took Jesus Christ to the cross. It is grace that makes the Holy Spirit open a sinner’s heart to believe the gospel. But even much more, it is grace that makes God choose one and overlook another long before the earth was established. The concept of the gospel of grace is not complete until we understand the sovereignty of God that chooses sinners to salvation.
Third, the doctrine of eternal decrees preserves the mystery and majesty of God. It is good to be able to preach about God and talk about who he is. But it is also humbling to reach a point and say: I do not know why God does this but, perhaps, someday in the by and by we will realize why. That God cannot be fully explained is the reason he remains God. Secret things still belong to him and the things he has revealed are for our rejoicing and obedience. One of the ways this doctrine has been explained is to show that the justice of God should confine all human beings to eternal perdition. Because of our sins, we are all deserving of hell. It is grace that moved a few from the path of damnation to the way of eternal life. Praise God for his mighty grace.
The doctrine of eternal decrees must form the foundation of our understanding of the doctrine of salvation, or else we would lose the cutting edge in the work of the Holy Spirit in saving sinners. When we realize that it is God alone that saves and that there is an elect of God in every place, we do not despair in the place of evangelism. Rather, we continue to beg God to save some. This doctrine is also a source of great comfort for the saints in times of trouble. When we can no longer hold on to our God, we know that he is holding on to us.
We cannot say why God chose us to salvation – it is certainly not because we are better than others. We can however spend the rest of our lives thanking him for his grace in Christ Jesus. While we step out to proclaim the gospel to the lost, we have firm hope that God would give ears to his elect and bring them to saving faith in his time and in his own way.
Praise be our God and Father, and to our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.