In definition of the decree or decrees of God, the Westminster Confession (1647) maintains that “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 secondary causes taken away, but rather established” (chap. III).

The decree of God is thus equivalent to the effective resolve or purpose, grounded in his free wisdom, by which God eternally controls his creation. It refers not merely to predestination to salvation or perdition, but to all God’s action in creation and direction of the world. As the Shorter Catechism puts it, “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” (ques. 7).

Important details are to be noted. First, the decrees are eternal, and are not therefore subject to temporal conditions nor variable in the light of changing situations. Second, they accord with God’s wisdom, and cannot therefore be dismissed as the capricious decisions of naked sovereignty. Third, they allow for secondary wills and causes, so that they are not a mere fate, nor deterministic nexus, nor Islamic will. Fourth, they serve God’s good pleasure, and therefore are neither meaningless nor discordant with the righteous love which characterizes God and redounds to his glory.

The reference of the decrees is specifically to creation, providence, and election. “God executeth his decrees in the works of creation and providence” (Shorter Catechism, ques. 8). “By the decree of God some angels and men are predestinated unto ...

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