“God’s eternal purpose according to the counsel of His will, whereby for His own glory, He hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass” (Shorter Catechism, Q. 7).
Scripture shows that God’s decree (for it is better to think of one all-comprehending purpose) relates to all events: Eph. 1:10, 11; Acts 15:18, 17:26; Job 14:5; Isa. 46:10. The free acts of man (Eph. 2:10) and even their wicked actions (Acts 2:23; 4:27, 28; Ps. 76:10; Prov. 16:4) are included, as well as what men call accidental events (Prov. 16:33). In a word, God’s decree comprehends all things in heaven and earth (Dan. 4:34, 35).
God’s decrees are said to be
1. Free, because He was moved solely by His own good pleasure;
2. Sovereign, because, “while they determine absolutely whatever occurs without (i.e., outside of) God, their whole reason and motive is within the divine nature, and they are neither suggested nor occasioned by, nor conditional upon, anything whatsoever without him” (A. A. Hodge);
3. Absolute, that is, unconditional, because they are not dependent upon conditions that are not themselves determined by divine decree; and
4. Efficacious, because they infallibly determine the certainty of the future events decreed. Theologians usually subdivide God’s efficacious decrees into two classes:
a. Those that are efficacious in the strict sense of the word; i.e., those relating to events that God determined to effect through necessary causes or His own immediate agency;
b. Those that are permissive, i.e., those relating to things that He has determined to allow created free agents to effect.
In both cases, the certain futurition of the event decreed is determined, but sinful creatures are responsible for their own sins. God is not the author of sin. The Biblical doctrine of the divine decree represents God as decreeing that sin should eventuate as the free act of man, not by any divine agency or inducement.
Cairns, A. (2002). In Dictionary of Theological Terms (p. 128). Belfast; Greenville, SC: Ambassador Emerald International.
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