God Decrees all Things!
The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations. Psalm 33:10-11ESV
Question 12 of the Larger Catechism asks, “What are the decrees of God?” It gives the answer, “God’s decrees are the wise, free, and holy acts of the counsel of his will, whereby, from all eternity, he hath, for his own glory, unchangeably foreordained whatsoever comes to pass in time, especially concerning angels and men.” In question 6 the Catechism first mentioned the subject of God’s decrees as one of those things that the Scriptures make known of God. Here it explains them.
“Decree” is not a word we commonly use today. A decree is an order made by a authoritative body that carries with it the force of law. In our government we usually hear of decrees with reference to courts. However, in antiquity, decrees were most often associated with sovereigns. One of the most famous decrees of history is the Edict of Nantes of 1598, wherein King Henry IV of France decreed liberty of worship to Protestants. The major difference between the decrees of men and the decrees of God, is that whatever God decrees infallibly and perfectly comes to pass, whereas the decrees of men do not. Thus, the Edict of Nantes did not stop persecution of Protestants. The certainty of the execution of God’s decrees is referred to by the Catechism where it notes that God has “unchangeably foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.”
It is important for us to understand that because God is eternal and because He has all wisdom and all power, all that is done in the universe, or as the Catechism puts it: “whatsoever comes to pass in time” was decreed by God from all eternity. Thus, Isaiah teaches us that God declares “the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done” (46:10). It must be so. Consider the alternative. If something happens that God has not decreed or ordained, then that part of the universe is outside of God’s control and power. This would mean that God is not in absolute control of all things, which in turn would mean that we could not trust God for anything. In the gospel God promises us eternal life if we believe in Jesus, but that thing He does not control might prevent Him from carrying out this promise. It might start off as a very small thing, but since God does not control it, it might “bump” into something bigger and create something else God did not ordain, which in turn could mess up something else, and so on and so forth until the promise of salvation was knocked out of God’s control! And then we would not be able to say, “Whatever the LORD pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps” (Ps. 135:6).
Such a conclusion is against Scripture and it is absurd given the existence of an all-powerful all-wise God, but it is the necessary corollary of a non-Reformed view of God. For if God has not foreordained all things, especially the decisions of men, then what happens on the earth is determined by the wills of men and not the will of God. Truly we would not be able to say with the Psalmist: “The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations” (Ps. 33:10-11). On the contrary we would have to say, “Man brings God’s counsel to nothing, he frustrates the plan of God. The counsel of man stands forever, for God is not allowed to disturb man’s free will!”
God’s decrees are always wise. In Romans 11 where Paul points out how God has consigned all men to disobedience that He might have mercy on all, he then exclaims, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!” (v. 33). The decrees of men frequently prove to be unwise. Likewise, man often decrees things by force of necessity, whereas all of God’s decrees are “free.” They are the acts of His will alone, not imposed upon Him by anyone or anything, for God’s sole counselor is His own will (Eph. 1:11). He does not need to consult anyone for wisdom or for permission, but God does whatever He pleases in all the earth (Ps. 135:6). Thus, God has mercy on whom He wills to have mercy, and He hardens whomever He wills to harden (Rom. 9:15-18). And even as God is holy in all His ways, so all of His decrees are holy and just (Dan. 9:14). As the old hymn goes, “What’re My God Ordains Is Right.” Praise God that He is mightier than our sin-bound wills!