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  • Writer's pictureDr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.

What Has God Decreed?

Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens. You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?” But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” Romans 9:18-20NKJV

Question 13 of the Larger Catechism asks, “What hath God especially decreed concerning angels and men?” It gives the answer, “God, by an eternal and immutable decree, out of his mere love, for the praise of his glorious grace, to be manifested in due time, hath elected some angels to glory; and in Christ hath chosen some men to eternal life, and the means thereof: and also, according to his sovereign power, and the unsearchable counsel of his own will, (whereby he extendeth or withholdeth favour as he pleaseth,) hath passed by and foreordained the rest to dishonour and wrath, to be for their sin inflicted, to the praise of the glory of his justice.” Last week we focused on the fact of God’s decrees – that an eternal, all-powerful, all-wise God must decree all things, this week we look at the substance of those decrees. What has God decreed?

First, we notice God’s motive in decreeing. Here we answer the question, “Why did God decree what He has decreed?” Or to say it another way, “Why did He ordain some things and not others?” Since the Catechism is particularly interested in the election of men and angels, the specific question addressed is, “Why did God choose to save some and not all?” The answer has been the subject of much controversy in the church for over 1,500 years. It basically boils down to two alternatives. Either God saved who He saved because the creature made the choice, or He saved who He saved because He made the choice. Clearly the Catechism sides with the latter option. The following phrases make that plain: God decreed to give some, but not all, men eternal life “out of his mere love.” Not the creature but “Christ hath chosen” to save “some men.” For God “extend[s] or withhold[s] favour as he please[s].” Since God makes this choice, it is not credited to the creature, but God’s grace gets all the glory. For the men thus saved have not in any way earned eternal life, it comes to them by God’s unmerited favor. They deserved to be “passed by and foreordained” to “dishonor and wrath” on account of “their sin.”

Thus, God’s motive in saving some and not all is declared to be entirely in Himself. It was according to God’s “sovereign power, and the unsearchable counsel of his own will” that God saved who He saved, and damned who He damned. It was God’s decision to do it that way. And no one can claim that God is unfair in His choice. God is perfectly fair to every man (and angel) who goes to Hell forever, for that is exactly what their sins deserve. And we know that Hell is perfectly just – each one will only be punished for those sins which he has committed (Matt. 11:22-24). Accordingly, those who go to heaven will receive, not justice, but mercy and grace. They will not be able to say they have earned Heaven in any way, even by one small decision, but they will acknowledge that it was God’s grace alone that brought them to faith and thus ultimately to eternal life. For God ordains not only the ends, but also “the means thereof.”

The Scripture at the head of this article focuses on God’s sovereign right to save and to curse whomever He wishes. The inspired apostle notices that when we first hear how God “has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens,” we want to protest, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?” That is, “How can God curse people He hardens?” How is it right for God to “find fault” when what He finds is there because He ordained it to be? Notice carefully Paul’s answer. He does not say, “Wait a minute. You got it all wrong. You’re thinking like a Calvinist here. God only finds fault with people He foreknows are not going to choose Him. So you see it is fair after all in that God lets each person make the choice.” That is not what Paul says at all! Paul does not say, “You ask the wrong question, you misunderstand me.” Instead, Paul acknowledges that some will protest against God’s sovereign right to save whom He chooses to save and to damn whom He chooses to damn. But Paul’s answer is, “God is the potter and we are the clay.” And anyone who does not think that God has done rightly with His creatures is like a thing formed finding fault with its maker, which is preposterous! Take some time to carefully read Romans 9 and see how Paul goes on to show that God’s giving some over to wrath is ultimately for the greater enjoyment of His elect in glory!


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