DECREES OF GOD
Are his settled purposes, whereby he foreordains whatsoever comes to pass, Dan. 4:24. Acts 15:18. Eph. 1:11. This doctrine is the subject of one of the most perplexing controversies that has occurred among mankind; it is not, however, as some think, a novel doctrine. The opinion, that whatever occurs in the world at large, or in the lot of private individuals, is the result of a previous and unalterable arrangement by that Supreme Power which presides over Nature, has always been held by many of the vulgar, and has been believed by speculative men. The ancient stoics, Zeno and Chrysippus, whom the Jewish Essenes seem to have followed, asserted the existence of a Deity, that, acting wisely but necessarily, contrived the general system of the world; from which, by a series of causes, whatever is now done in it unavoidable results. Mahomet introduced into his Kiran the doctrine of absolute predestination of the course of human affairs. He represented life and death, prosperity and adversity, and every event that befalls a man in this world, as the result of a previous determination of the one God who rules over all. Augustine and the whole of the earliest reformers, but especially Calvin, favoured this doctrine. It was generally asserted, and publicly owned, in most of the confessions of faith of the reformed churches, and particularly in the church of England; and to this, we may add, that it was maintained by a great number of divines in the last two centuries.
As to the nature of these decrees, it must be observed that they are not the result of deliberation, or the Almighty’s debating matters within himself, reasoning in his own mind about the expediency or inexpediency of things, as creatures do; nor are they merely ideas of things future, but settled determinations founded on his sovereign will and pleasure, Isa. 40:14. They are to be considered as eternal: this is evident; for if God be eternal, consequently his purposes must be of equal duration with himself: to suppose otherwise, would be to suppose that there was a time when he was undetermined and mutable; whereas no new determinations or after thoughts can arise in his mind, Job 23:13,14.—2. They are free, without any compulsion, and not excited by any motive out of himself, Rom 9:15.—3. They are infinitely wise, displaying his glory, and promoting the general good, Rom. 11:33.—4. They are immutable, for this is the result of his being infinitely perfect; for if there were the least change in God’s understanding, it would be an instance of imperfection, Mal. 3:6.—5. They are extensive or universal, relating to all creatures and things in heaven, earth, and hell, Eph. 1:11. Prov. 16:4.—6. They are secret, or at least cannot be known till he be pleased to discover them. It is therefore presumption for any to attempt to enter into or judge of what he has not revealed, Deut. 29:29. Nor is an unknown or supposed decree at any time to be the rule of our conduct. His revealed will alone, must be considered as the rule by which we are to judge of the event of things, as well as of our conduct at large, Rom. 11:34.—7. Lastly, they are effectual; for as he is infinitely wise to plan, so he is infinitely powerful to perform: his counsel shall stand, and he will do all his pleasure, Isa. 46:10.
This doctrine should teach us, 1. Admiration. “He is the rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are judgment; a God of truth, and without iniquity; just and right is he,” Deut. 32:4.—2. Reverence. “Who would not fear thee, O King of nations? for to thee doth it appertain,” Jer. 10:7.—3. Humility. “O the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!” Rom. 11:33.—4. Submission. “For he doeth according to his will in the armies of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?” Dan. 4:35.—5. Desire for heaven. “What I do, thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter,” John 13:7.
Decrees of Councils are the laws made by them to regulate the doctrine and policy of the Church. Thus the acts of the Christian council at Jerusalem are called, Acts. 16:4.
Charles Buck (1771-1815) was an English Independent minister, best known for the publication of his “Theological Dictionary”. According to the “Dictionary of National Biography”, a Particular Baptist minister named John C. Ryland (1723-1792) assisted Buck by writing many of the articles for the aforementioned publication. One may conclude, based not only Buck’s admiration for his friend Ryland, but also on the entries in his Theological Dictionary, that he stood head and shoulders with the High-Calvinists of his day.