Chapter 8: The Divine Decrees

Table of Contents

1. The Divine Decrees in General

The decree of God is His eternal plan or purpose, in which He has foreordained all things that come to pass. Since it includes many particulars, we often speak of the divine decrees in the plural, though in reality there is but a single decree. It covers all the works of God in creation and redemption, and also embraces the actions of men, not excluding their sinful deeds. But while it rendered the entrance of sin into the world certain, it does not make God responsible for our sinful deeds. His decree with respect to sin is a permissive decree.

a. Characteristics of the decree

    • The decree of God is founded in wisdom (Ephesians 3:9-11), though we do not always understand it. It was formed in the depths of eternity, and is therefore eternal in the strictest sense of the word. (Ephesians 3:11)
    • Moreover, it is effectual, so that everything that is included in it certainly comes to pass. (Isaiah 46:10)
    • The plan of God is also unchangeable, because He is faithful and true. (Job 28:13, 14; Isaiah 46:10; Luke 22:22)
    • It is unconditional, that is, its execution does not depend on any action of man but even renders such action certain. (Acts 2:23; Ephesians 2:8)  Moreover, it is all-inclusive, embracing the good and the wicked actions of men (Ephesians 2:10; Acts 2:28), contingent events (Genesis 50:20), the duration of man’s life (Job 14:5; Psalm 39:4), and the place of his habitation (Acts 17:26). With respect to sin it is permissive.

b. Objections to the doctrine of the decrees

Many do not believe in the doctrine of the decrees, and raise especially three objections.

(1) It is inconsistent with, the moral freedom of man. But the Bible clearly teaches not only that God has decreed the free acts of man, but also that man is none to the less free and responsible for his acts. (Genesis 50:19, 20; Acts 2:23; 4:27-29) We may not be able to harmonize the two altogether, but it is evident from Scripture that the one does not cancel the other.

(2) It makes people slothful in seeking salvation. They feel that, if God has determined whether they will be saved or not, it makes no difference what they may do. But this is hardly correct, because man does not know what God has decreed respecting him. Moreover, God has decreed not only the final destiny of man, but also the means by which it will be realized. And seeing that the end is decreed only as the result of the appointed means, it encourages rather than discourages their use.

(3) It makes God the author of sin. It may be said, however, that the decree merely makes God the author of free moral beings, who are themselves the authors of sin. Sin is made certain by the decree, but God does not Himself produce it by His direct action. At the same time it must be admitted that the problem of God’s relation to sin remains a mystery which we cannot fully solve.

2. Predestination

Predestination is the plan or purpose of God respecting His moral creatures. It pertains to men, both good and bad, to angels and devils, and to Christ as the Mediator. Predestination includes two parts, namely, election and reprobation.

a. Election

The Bible speaks of election in more than one sense, as

(1) the election of Israel as the Old Testament people of God (Deuteronomy 4:37; 7:6-8; 10:15; Hosea 13:5);

(2) the election of persons to some special once or service (Deuteronomy 18:5; 1 Samuel 10:24; Psalm 78:70); and

(3) the election of individuals unto salvation (Matthew 22:14; Romans 11:6; Ephesians 1:4).

This last is the election to which we refer in this connection. It may be defined as God’s eternal purpose to save some of the human race in and by Jesus Christ.

b. Reprobation

The doctrine of election naturally implies that God did not intend to save all. If He purposed to save some, He naturally also purposed not to save others. This is also in harmony with the teachings of Scripture. (Matthew 11:25, 26; Romans 9:13, 17, 18, 21, 22; 11:7, 8; 2 Peter 2:9; Jude 4)  Reprobation may be defined as God’s eternal purpose to pass some men by with the operation of His special grace, and to punished them for their sin. It really embodies a twofold purpose therefore:

(1) to pass some by in the bestowal of saving grace; and

(2) to punish them for their sins.

It is sometimes said that the doctrine of predestination exposes God to the charge of injustice. But this is hardly correct. We could speak of injustice only if man had a claim on God, and God owed man eternal salvation. But the situation is entirely different if all men have forfeited the blessings of God, as they have. No one has the right to call God to account for electing some and rejecting others. He would have been perfectly just, if He had not saved any. (Matthew 20:14, 15; Romans 9:14, 15)


To memorize:

Passages pertaining to:

a. God’s decree in general:

  • Ephesians 1:11 – also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will,
  • Psalm 33:11 – The counsel of the LORD stands forever, The plans of His heart from generation to generation.
  • Isaiah 46:10 – Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure.

b. Predestination:

  • Ephesians 1:11 – also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will,
  • Psalm 2:7 – “I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.
  • Ephesians 1:4-5 – just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will,
  • Romans 11:5 – In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to [God’s] gracious choice.
  • Romans 9:13 – Just as it is written, “JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED.”
  • Romans 9:18 – So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.


For Further Study:

a. Is foreknowledge the same as foreordination or predestination?

  • Acts 2:23 – this [Man,] delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put [Him] to death.
  • Romans 8:29 – For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined [to become] conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren;
  • Romans 11:2 – God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says in [the passage about] Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel?
  • 1 Peter 1:2 – according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure.

b. How does the Bible indicate that Christ was also an object of predestination?  In what sense is this to be understood?

  • Psalm 2:7 – “I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.
  • Isaiah 42:1 – “Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one [in whom] My soul delights. I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations.
  • 1 Peter 1:20 – For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you
  • 1 Peter 2:4 – And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God,

c. What indications have we that the angels were also objects of predestination?  How should we conceive of this?

  • 1 Timothy 5:21 – I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of [His] chosen angels, to maintain these [principles] without bias, doing nothing in a [spirit of] partiality.


Questions for Review

  1. What is the divine decree?
  2. Why do we sometimes speak of ‘decrees’ in the plural?
  3. What are the characteristics of the decree?
  4. What is the nature of God’s decree respecting sin?
  5. What objections are raised against the doctrine of the Decrees?
  6. What can be said in answer to these?
  7. How is predestination related to the decree in general?
  8. Who are the objects of predestination?
  9. How must we conceive of the predestination of the angels and of Christ?
  10. In what different senses does the Bible speak of election?
  11. What does reprobation include, and what proof is there for it?
  12. Does the doctrine of predestination involve injustice on the part of God? If not, why not?
Scroll to Top