God’s Decrees: Cause of Praise and Humility

“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.”
Westminster Shorter Catechism, 7

God executes His decrees in the works of creation and providence.”
Westminster Shorter Catechism, 8

The doctrine of this high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care, 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. So shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God; and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation to all that sincerely obey the Gospel.”
Westminster Confession of Faith, 3.8

So often our discussions of God’s decree is driven by the urge to respond to those voices which would reject and challenge this biblical doctrine. The doctrine of God’s eternal decree is taught throughout Scripture. Notably Ephesians 1, Romans 9, and John 6:35-40.

Rather than argue for God’s decree, we will here consider the response we ought to have to this biblical doctrine. I am reminded of something that R.C. Sproul wrote. He tells the story of his own struggle with the doctrine of God’s decrees, providence, election and reprobation. The turning point for him was during a seminary class where he was required to deal, sentence by sentence with Jonathan Edwards’ The Freedom of the Will. Sproul became convinced, and comments that often submission to this doctrine comes before love of it.

First came the intellectual conviction that the doctrine was biblically inescapable. It took some time, however for [Edwards and Sproul] to see the doctrine’s sweetness and excellence. It draws our attention away from ourselves and our petty concerns, and directs our gaze to God, who is truly sovereign and purposive in His determination to bring about the salvation of His people. He does not simply make salvation possible, and then sit like a spectator, leaving our final destiny in our own hands. The biblical doctrine of sin makes it clear that if God left our future in our hands, we most assuredly would not end up in heaven.

When we see the depths to which God goes to bring His people to the fullness of     salvation, we stand in awe before His grace. Is there anything more amazing than that we should be called children of God? The apostle John writes to his flock: “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1). This helps us see the excellence and sweetness of grace, and it moves us to praise, reverence, and admiration. (Sproul, Truths We Confess, 107)

Sproul goes on to comment on our cult of the individual, how we like to make everything about ourselves. How we like to turn the kingdom of God into a democracy, rather than realize our need to bow before our Absolute Monarch. This is why even believers struggle with the doctrine of God’s decree so much. It is unacceptable to our egos that God should declare Himself in control, and that His decree includes things we don’t like, yet God chooses not to answer all our questions.

The Westminster Confession of Faith ends its chapter on the Divine Decrees by reminding us that this doctrine should lead us to worship and praise of our Sovereign God. The very fact this doctrine is a mystery, and beyond our ability to fully comprehend should drive us to our knees in awe of our God, as Romans 11:33 declares, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!

But we will never fall on our knees in praise, nor live the diligent life of grateful obedience to which this God calls us, nor enjoy the great comfort that this doctrine extends to all who call on the Name of Christ, unless we come to the doctrine in humility.

Why do some of us call on the name of the Lord, and others reject the offer of the gospel? Is it because some of us are smarter? Paul says that not many of the wise are chosen (1 Cor. 1:26). Is it just random? Is it because we wanted it more? But Scripture tells us that wanting it isn’t enough, for we aren’t able to choose Christ on our own (John 6:44, Rom. 8:8). So why do some of us call on the name of the Lord? Because God predestined us to eternal life, and works this life, this desire to call on the name of the Lord, and the faith to call out, by the work of the Holy Spirit, effectually calling us, and thereby uniting us to Christ.

Isn’t that humbling? Doesn’t that leave your pride bruised and broken? Doesn’t that take all superiority over unbelievers out of us? It was not because we are anything special. It is not because we are better or morally good. It was only God’s love that called us, by His will, unto everlasting life. And it is He, through Jesus Christ His Son, who created and governs all things, in all time and all space (Col. 1).

But that will lead to apathy; why call on the name of the Lord if we are either elect or not? If I am not elect, calling won’t help, and if I am elect, I will be saved whether I call out or not! But friends, God does not tells us what His decree is for our lives. He simply tells us that all the elect will cry out to Him, and then tells us to call out and be saved. God’s decree does not counteract an energetic faith, but spurs it on.

The whole theme of Scripture is all of grace, all of Christ’s mercy. Are we humble enough to bow before the doctrine of Divine decree? If so, you will find that such a position before God’s throne is a joyful place, a place where singing praise is exciting, for the praise is not for us in our weakness, but for the God who loved us, and gave His Son for us!

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