Monday, August 30, 2010

The Doctrine of The Divine Decree

Louis Berkhof noted that outside of Reformed circles one seldom hears of the doctrine of God’s decree. Arminians reject, or at least ignore it, because it runs against their view of man’s self-determining will.

Open Theists, on the other hand, reject it because of their twisted notions of Scriptural language. They that when Scripture says that God is said to repent, not to fulfill His promises and/or threats, commands something different than He did before that this is not anthropomorphic or anthropopathic language, but indeed denotes a change in God’s plans and dealings with man.

What both parties fail to recognize is the overwhelming weight of Scriptural evidence regarding the Divine decree. The all-inclusive nature of the Divine decree is everywhere taught in Scripture. There is nothing that falls outside its reach. All occurrences on the whole and every single detail of them are included in the scope of the decree. This applies to everything including the results of man exercising his free will, such as wars and their outcomes, marriages and all their related incidents, the times and places of our residence, our birthday and day of death. Nothing is excluded. Scripture gives us several clear declarations.

First, there are texts of an all-inclusive nature. “Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world” (Acts 15:18); “... Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will” (Eph 1:11). The word “all” in these cases leaves no exceptions.

Secondly, there are texts that refer to specific matters:
(1) The place and time of everyone’s residence. “determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation” (Acts 17:26);
(2) All the events that happen in man’s lifetime. “He performeth the thing that is appointed for me” (Job 23:14);
(3) The blessings that will be bestowed upon the elect. “Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will...Having made known unto us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He hath purposed in Himself” (Eph 1:5,9);
(4) Election and reprobation. “That the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of Him that calleth; it was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated” (Rom 9:11-13);
(5) Even what accomplished by the exercise of man’s “free will.” This is clear from what men did to Christ. “And truly the Son of man goeth, as it was determined: but woe unto that man by whom He is betrayed!” (Luke 22:22); “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken,” etc. (Acts 2:23); “For of a truth against Thy holy Child Jesus, whom Thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, for to do whatsoever Thy hand and Thy counsel determined before to be done” (Acts 4:27-28);
(6) Marriage. “Let the same be the woman whom the Lord hath appointed out for my master’s son” (Gen 24:44); “What therefore God hath joined together ...” (Matt 19:6).

Thirdly, the time, place, type, and circumstances of the death of every person have been determined.
(1) Scripture states this explicitly: “seeing his days are determined, the number of his months are with Thee, Thou hast appointed his bounds that he cannot pass” (Job 14:5). Job speaks of a specified number of days and months that are appointed to man. David speaks similarly. He says: “Lord, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is; that I may know how frail I am. Behold, Thou hast made my days as an handbreadth” (Ps 39:4-5). He is not referring to the general brevity of human life. Rather, he means the particular measure of days God has allotted him. The duration of his life has specifically defined limits, like a handbreadth – meaning that his life’s duration was predetermined. “... and hath determined the times before appointed” (Acts 17:26).

(2) As God has determined the day of everyone’s birth, so has He determined the termination of each one’s life. God has life and death in His hand, works everything according to His determinate counsel (Acts 2:23), and according to the counsel of His will (Eph 1:11).

Consequently, man’s age has been determined: “My times are in Thy hand” (Ps 31:15); “Thou turnest man to destruction” (Ps 90:3); “He shall cut off the spirit of princes” (Ps 76:12); “The Lord killeth, and maketh alive” (1 Sam 2:6).

Even when someone dies in an apparent accident, this is not outside the Divine decree. If a man is killed by an axe head that has slipped from the helve (Deut. 19:5), God claims to have delivered that man into the hand of woodcutter (Exod. 21:13). God determined Ahab’s age, even though he appeared to have been hit by an arrow out of sheer dumb luck (1 Kings 22:28, 34).

As we noted above, nothing, absolutely nothing, is outside the reach of the Divine decree. Nothing is ever really “out of control.” God is in control.

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