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3. God's Eternal Decree

3. God's Eternal Decree

There must exist a perfectly good, omnipotent God, who created a perfectly good universe out of a desire/need to glorify himself by rewarding in heaven the few human beings who just got lucky to believe by being born at the right time and place, and who will condemn to hell those who do not believe. 1

TConfession a paragraph at a time. The first paragraph reads:

he Westminster Confession of Faith 2 contains a chapter about God’s eternal decree. A

better understanding of God’s decree can be had if we examine chapter three of the

God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established. 3

The Westminster divines establish that God, solely at the discretion of his will, decrees everything that will come to pass. It makes sense that God would use only himself as a counselor. Nothing exists external to God. God’s own attributes define holiness, justice, mercy, love, and wrath. So for his decree, he asked only himself what should be done. So to speak. The divines are careful to point out that God is not the author of sin, nor is the freedom of man opposed by this decree. In fact, it is because man is made in God’s image that our free will is here established, and it is so by decree of God. Exactly how God has foreordained everything that will happen, yet man remains free and morally responsible, is left a mystery. But, it is absolutely inescapable: God is sovereign, man is free by decree of the sovereign, and therefore man is accountable to God for his actions. The second paragraph reads:

Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions; yet has He not decreed anything because He foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions. 4

This paragraph refutes Molinism. Molinism has God constrained by natural laws and human free will. This contradicts the nature of God as previously defined in chapter one, 5 and it also contradicts Scripture. 6 The point to take home is that God decrees that which glorifies him, not that which he foresees as a possible future. Loftus’s objection centers around the notion that religion is inherited from parents and

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geographically distributed. Let us take a moment to define predestination, then we can dispense with Loftus’s geographically inherited religion objection. Back to the Confession:

By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death. These angels and men, thus predestinated, and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished. 7

This is easy enough. God has selected a certain, definite group of people who will be his own. There are unchangeablely designed for his own purpose. This is typically thought of as flying in the face of free will, but remember we discussed earlier that this very free will that we worship so often is itself a gift from God, and is established by, not diminished by, his decree. As the Bible states, God wants us to choose him freely. Left to our devices, humans run away from God. God has no choice but to select a sampling of those to save. This selection isn’t random. Here’s what the Confession says about it:

Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to His eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of His will, has chosen, in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of His mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith, or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving Him thereunto; and all to the praise of His glorious grace. 8

Creating people is not an assembly line. God does not just pick a few people here, a few more there, then let a slew go by with no consideration, only to pick one more before going on lunch break. According to this paragraph, God chooses according to his own purpose. Above, we know that the elect are designed specifically for this. S o the elect all have a purpose to serve in Christ. The paragraph closes by explaining that God does not make his choice based on foresight of faith, good works, ability to remain faithful, or anything in the creature. It is nothing inside of a human that makes him or her elect; it is only by the grace of God that anyone is elect in the first place. So what does God do with those that he has chosen as his elect? The Confession continues:

As God has appointed the elect unto glory, so has He, by the eternal and most free purpose of His will, foreordained all the means thereunto. Wherefore, they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ by His Spirit working in due season, are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by His power, through faith, unto salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only. 9

This paragraph says that God, by the working of the Holy Spirit, effectually calls 10 the elect to faith in Christ. Then, the Golden Chain of Redemption 11 is followed: the elect are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by the power of God. Loftus speaks often about geographically inherited religion. 12 In the first sentence above, the Confession says that God has foreordained all of the means by which the elect become so. I believe that the phenomenon of children unquestioningly inheriting religion from parents (and religion varies by geography) is a mechanism that God can use to predestine the elect. Loftus thinks that this is a great evil, probably because of the inevitability of double predestination:

3. God's Eternal Decree

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The rest of mankind God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of His own will, whereby He extends or withholds mercy, as He pleases, for the glory of His sovereign power over His creatures, to pass by; and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise of His glorious justice. 13

It seems evil for man to be condemned only because God passed him over, which might manifest by birth in a non-Christian area of the world. The child grows up Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist, and no matter how well-behaved or loving that they may have been, they are damned to hell because they were not saved in Christ. However, we have already discussed the fact that man is morally responsible for his decisions. And man has a responsibility to seek God and know, worship, and love his Creator — and thus discover the method by which the Creator wishes to be known. The only question that remains is if people are condemned to hell solely on the basis of not believing in Jesus as the Savior. Paul discusses this in Romans. First, Paul establishes that God is knowable:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. 14

Paul says that God’s attributes, normally invisible, are knowable by creation itself. Creation, it is often said, implies a creator. The universe, and all of its intricate design with attention to the smallest details, ought to speak loudly about its Creator to those who are listening. Paul thinks that this leaves people without excuse for knowing that there is a God. What seems to happen instead is that people do not want to honor God as God; rather, they worship and serve the creation. They fail to think beyond what is in front of them. This is clearly seen by the rampant atheism in modern science, which quests to explain everything in terms of naturalism without the need for a transcendent creator; and in the geographically inherited religion, people being taught blatant falsehoods about God that can be rectified if only they would open their eyes and see that the god they serve is not the one revealed by nature itself. Paul goes on to write about the moral laws which govern us all:

For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. 15

Paul is then able to conclude, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” 16 We are separated from God by nature and by deed. We are not being unfaily punished for not believing in Christ. We are being justly punished for the sins that we do, and the sinful nature enfleshing us, because all are under the law, and all know the law on some level (as Paul states above). The responsibility to know the truth about God is not negated by the fact of geographically

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inherited religion. That most people are essentially lazy and let their parents’ religion become their own without thinking about does not testify against God. It only reveals a vulnerability within human nature. Neither does God’s own divine decree lay waste to human freedom and responsibility to come in faith to God. It is a mystery exactly how free will and God’s eternal decree interplay, but it is obvious that the responsibility is on man to find his Creator, and the fact that God has chosen from the beginning who will successfully find him should not impede anyone’s search. Now we now that we only come to believe by hearing the word of God. But what about those who have never heard? The apostle Paul argues there is no such animal. 17 We all know of Jesus on some level, and his existence has been testified somewhere. Again, it is up to the individual to seek God, and the problem is that few (or perhaps none at all) do this apart from the drawing of the Father. 18

1)

John W. Loftus. “Reality Check: What Must be the Case if Christianity is True?” Debunking Christianity.

2010.

2) Originally formulated in 1646, the Confession is one of several confessions based on the theology of John Calvin. It is subordinate to the Bible, but influential primarily in Presbyterian circles. It is available online at <http://www.reformed.org/documents/wcf_with_proofs/index.html>. See the Wikipedia entry, <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Westminster_Confession_of_Faith>, for more information on the history and formulation of the Confession.

3) Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter III, paragraph 1.

4) Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter III, paragraph 2.

5) Remember nothing exists external to God. He is necessary because none of the material world would exist without him. The attributes we understand from the material world are defined by God’s nature; God’s nature is not defined by them. Review chapter one for more information on God’s ontology.

6) The story of Pharaoh in Exodus is instructive here.

7) Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter III, paragraphs 3-4.

8) Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter III, paragraph 5.

9) Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter III, paragraph 6.

10)“Effectual calling” is the same as “irresistible grace,” which is frequently cited as one of the five points of Calvinism spelled out by the acronym TULIP. For more information, see my article on the subject of irresistible grace,

11) The Golden Chain of Redemption is found in Romans 8:29-30: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” My article on irresistible grace, <http://wp.me/P2bFc-eZ>, contains an exposition of the Golden Chain.

12)There are numerous examples, but check <http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2010/06/step-outside-box-and-see- it-for-what-it.html> for the most recent. I answered this piece on the blog at <http://wp.me/p2bFc-oP>. That post generated so many comments from various atheists that I had to break the comments into groups and answer them in three separate posts: <http://wp.me/p2bFc-oR>, <http://wp.me/p2bFc-oU>, and <http://wp.me/p2bFc-oS>.

13)Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter III, paragraph 7.

14)Romans 1:18-23.

15)Romans 2:12-16.

Acknowledgments

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17)Romans 10:X-X

18)John 6:44