The Doctrine of Divine Decree is another method of assigning to God the position of “first cause of all that exists.” Divine Decree means there is one comprehensive plan in which all things have their place and by which they proceed.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism asserts that it is “His eternal purpose, according to the counsel of His will, whereby, for His own glory, He has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass” (Question 7).
God’s Decree is wise, free, and unconditional. The term Divine Decree is an attempt to gather up into one designation that to which the Scriptures refer by various designations.
- The Divine purpose, Eph 1:11.
- Determinate counsel, Acts 2:23.
- Foreknowledge, 1 Peter 1:2; cf. 1:20.
- Election, 1 Thes 1:4.
- Predestination, Rom 8:30.
- The Divine will, Eph 1:11.
- The Divine good pleasure, Eph 1:9.
The term Decree of God appears first in the singular, since God has but one all-inclusive plan. He sees all things at a glance. Yet for our finite comprehension, the separate features of His plan are called the Decrees of God.
Given the plurality of “Decrees,” there is no implication that the infinite understanding of God advances by steps or in a train, and likewise there is no possibility that the one plan will be altered by omissions or additions. With God there is one immutable decree embracing in itself every detail, even the falling of a sparrow.
Divine Decree is the Divine cognition from all eternity. Acts 15:18 (KJV), “Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world.”
Therefore, God formed His decree in eternity past, though its execution is in time.
The decree being eternal, all its parts are in the mind of God, yet they are one intuition, though in its realization there is succession.
For example, of Christ it is said in 1 Peter 1:20, “He was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times.”
God did not, however, decree anything concerning Himself; as to His existence, His attributes, the mode of His subsistence in three Persons, or any inherent relationship or assumption of responsibilities within the Godhead. Those things have existed eternally.
Divine Decree is then the doctrine describing the predetermined plan of God for the creation and continuation of man and has application to angels as well. It states the fact that God originates and executes “whatsoever comes to pass.”
The Decree of God is His eternal and immutable will, regarding the future existence of all events which will happen in time and the precise manner and order of their occurrence, including angelic history and human history.
The Decree of God is His eternal, (always existed), holy, (perfect integrity), wise, (the application of omniscience to creation), and sovereign purpose, comprehending simultaneously all things that ever were or will be in their causes, conditions, (status), successions, (interaction with others that leads to certain decisions), relations, and determining their certain futurity.
The definition emphasizes that the omniscience of God knew simultaneously in eternity past everything that would happen in human history, (the thought, action, and decision of every person in his life), furthermore, everything in relation to all of the things pertaining to it.
The Decree of God is broken down to two aspects, 1) His Efficacious work, which is brought about by God, and 2) His permissive will, which allows for secondary actions, i.e., human volition.
When defining the Divine Decree, it is important to note that though singular in act, it has five distinct parts. All of God’s decrees were actually simultaneous, in one all-encompassing Divine Decree; He did not give them in stages. However, our finite mind can only understand them in stages rather than as one decree, and we must perceive them by Biblical, logical, and chronological progression.
Of all the decrees of God, reaching out as they do to infinity, five are related directly to the purpose of God in election, as it pertains to those who comprise the Church, the Body of Christ.
These five parts are known as the Divine Decrees, which define the Father’s plan and provision for salvation of depraved man. The decrees include Sovereignty, Election, Predestination, etc., and encompass the following five points:
- The creation of man.
- The fall of man.
- The provision of salvation.
- Predestination and election.
- Application of salvation.
The term Lapsarianism is used for the study and debate of these five points, especially regarding the order in which God deals with man, and the mode of operation in how He determines His plan for man’s life. The word Lapsarian means, “One who believes in the doctrine that man is a fallen being,” and thus represents the study of these five points of God’s Divine Decree.
These five points are also known as the “Five Points of Calvinism,” which are credited to John Calvin, (1509-1564). Yet, it was one of his students, Theodore Beza, (1519-1605), who developed and refined them, loosely based on the teachings of Calvin. Beza utilized the good name of John Calvin to give credit to his interpretation of the order of God’s Divine Decrees. Calvin most likely would not subscribe to Beza’s interpretation of the five points, which we will note in the first grouping below, which has come to be called Hyper or Ultra Calvinism, also known as Supralapsarianism.
The debate over these five points is not as to each one’s validity and reality, but it revolves around the order of the decree of predestination and election for both believers and unbelievers.
The five points include:
- The decree to provide salvation for men.
- The decree to create all men.
- The decree to permit the fall of men.
- The decree to elect some to salvation and leave others to their just condemnation.
- The decree to apply salvation to men.
As we explore the interpretations of the five points, we must first note that they are:
- All-Comprehensive; They all go together and are held together perfectly.
- Eternal; The decrees always existed; God knew all the decrees at all times.
- Perfect; God is perfect; therefore, His decrees are perfect.
- Unchangeable and Certain; Nothing can possibly occur to necessitate a change.
- The free choice of God; God determined all future events from His sovereign will in eternity past.
The Five Points of Calvinism have been refined into four various interpretations; the first three being classed as Calvinistic:
This is also known as Ultra Calvinist and begins the decrees with election for some to be saved and reprobate for all others.
- Decree to elect some to be saved and to reprobate all others.
- Decree to create men both elect and non-elect.
- Decree to permit man to fall.
- Decree to provide salvation for the elect, limited atonement.
- Decree to apply salvation to the elect.
The primary issue in the order proposed by this school of interpreters is that the decree to elect some and to reprobate all others stands first in the order of decrees, and by this disposal God is declared to have elected men to their destiny before they were created, before the fall, and before having free will to choose or reject God’s provision for salvation.
In reality, by this system, men are consigned to the Lake of Fire before they sin and without a cause, except it be by the sovereign will of God.
The flaw here is the assumption of election before the creation and fall of man. This flaw treats salvation as provided for and applicable only to the elect, and removes the potentiality and application of the non-elect. It ignores “for God so loved the world that he gave his uniquely born Son.” Compare to John 15:19; Rom 11:5-7; John 3:16, 36
Dr. Wm. G. T. Shedd, as quoted by L.S. Chafer, remarks: “The supralapsarian theory places, in the order of decrees, the decree of election and predestination before the fall, instead of after it. It supposes that God begins by decreeing that a certain number of men shall be elected, and reprobated. This decree is prior even to that of creation, in the logical order. . . The objections to this view are the following: (a) The decree of election and predestination has reference to a nonentity. Man is contemplated as creatable, not as created. Consequently, the decree of election and predestination has no real object. . . Man is only ideally existent, an abstract conception; and therefore, any divine determination concerning him, is a determination concerning non-entity. But God’s decrees of election and reprobation suppose some actually created beings, from which to select and reject. “On whom he will, he hath mercy; and whom he will, he hardeneth,” Rom. 9:18. The first decree, in the order of nature, must therefore be a decree to create. God must bring man into being, before he can decide what man shall do or experience. It is no reply to say, that man is created in the Divine idea, though not in reality, when the decree of predestination is made. It is equally true that he is fallen in the Divine idea, when this decree is made. And the question is, What is the logical order, in the divine idea, of the creation and the fall? (b) The Scriptures represent the elect and non-elect, respectively, as taken out of an existing aggregate of beings. John 15:19, “1 have chosen you out of the world.” (c) The elect are chosen to justification and sanctification. Eph. 1:4-6; 1 Pet. 1:2. They must therefore have been already fallen, and consequently created. God justifies “the ungodly,” Rom. 4:5; and sanctifies the unholy. (d) The supralapsarian reprobation is a Divine act that cannot presuppose sin, because it does not presuppose existence. But the Scriptures represent the non-elect as sinful creatures. In Jude 4, the men who were “of old ordained to this condemnation” are “ungodly men, turning the grace of God into lasciviousness.” Accordingly, the Westminster Confession (111.7) affirms that God passes by the non-elect, and “ordains them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise of his glorious justice.” The supralapsarian quotes Rom. 9:11, in proof of his assertion that election and predestination are prior to the creation of man. “The children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil,” Jacob was chosen and Esau was left. This is an erroneous interpretation. Birth is not synonymous with creation. Parents are not the creators of their children. Man exists before he is born into the world. He exists in the womb; and he existed in Adam” (Dogmatic Theology, 1, 442-43)
This is known as moderate Calvinism. The distinctive issue is that the decree to elect some and to leave others in retribution follows the fall. This order glorifies God revealing His infinite, wise, holy, and righteous will.
- Decree to create all Men.
- Decree to permit man to fall.
- Decree to provide salvation for men, unlimited atonement.
- Decree to elect those who believe and leave in just condemnation all who do not believe.
- Decree to apply salvation to those who believe
This order correctly places election after the provision of salvation for all men, and then based on God’s election, salvation is applied to the elect, who have freely believed. Compare to John 15:19; Rom 11:5-7; Eph 1:1-15; 2:8-9; 1 Peter 1:1-2.
John 15:19, “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates
Rom 11:5-7, “In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice. 6But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace. 7What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened.”
Eph 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
1 Peter 1:1-2, “To those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen 2according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure.”
This is also known as moderate Calvinism and differs but slightly from the order proposed by the Infralapsarians. Technically, the Sublapsarians order the Divine Decrees so that the decree to elect occurs before the decree to provide salvation; whereas, the Infralapsarians order, the decree to provide salvation before the decree to elect the believers.
- Decree to create all men.
- Decree to permit man to fall.
- Decree to elect those who believe and leave in just condemnation all who do not believe.
- Decree to provide salvation for the elect – limited salvation / atonement.
- Decree to apply salvation to those who believe.
The flaw here opens the door for interpretation that Christ did not provide unlimited atonement but a limited one, just as Supralapsarianism does, because election occurs prior to the provision of salvation, the Cross, (i.e., only the sins of the elect were imputed to Christ on the cross, not the sins of the whole world, because man was elected first and the provision for salvation was then determined; therefore, only requiring the imputation of the elect believers’ sins.)
The Arminian view, although providing for salvation before election, places dependence of election on God’s foreknowledge of human virtue, faith, and obedience. This view places election as experiential sanctification or a condition of human good works, instead of sanctification being the result of election.
- Decree to create all Men
- Decree to permit man to fall
- Decree to provide salvation for man
- Decree to elect those who have human virtue and leave in just condemnation all who do not.
- Decree to apply salvation to those who have human virtue, faith and obedience.
The Arminian order of divine decrees is similar to the Infralapsarian order, yet with a significant distinction of “human virtue”. This view is based on teachings by JACOBUS ARMINIUS, (1559–1609), a Dutch theologian and professor of theology (1603-9) at the University of Leiden. Previously, he studied under Beza at Geneva. He is the founder of an anti-Calvinist Reformed theology. From the outset, Arminius’ sermons on Romans 7 drew the fire of “high” Calvinists who disliked his views on grace and predestination.
In his view “grace” is the unmerited favor God shows toward sinners. And “predestination” is the doctrine that God determines beforehand who will be saved and who will not be saved. He believed predestination was Biblical and true; that God had intended some persons for heaven and others for hell, as indicated by Jesus’ reference to “sheep and goats.” But he focused on God’s love more than on God’s power in speaking of election, the process by which God chose those intended for heaven.
After Arminius died, a group of ministers who sympathized with his views developed a systematic and rational theology based on his teachings. In their declaration, a remonstrance issued in 1610, the Arminians argued that election was conditioned by faith, that grace could be rejected, that the work of Christ was intended for all persons, and that it was possible for believers to fall from grace.
In 1592, a colleague formally accused him of Pelagianism (an emphasis on free will, among other things, that took form in the fifth century. It is a rationalistic and naturalistic heretical doctrine concerning grace and morals, which emphasizes human free will as the decisive element in human perfectibility and minimizes or denies the need for divine grace and redemption. The doctrine was formulated by the Romano-British monk Pelagius, c. 355-c. 425). Arminius came to teach a conditional election in which a person’s free will might or might not affect the divine offer of salvation.
Nevertheless, it is important to distinguish between Arminius’ teaching and what later became known as Arminianism, which was more liberal in its view of free will and of related doctrines than was its founder. Arminius’ views were never systematically worked out until the year after his death, when his followers issued a declaration called the Remonstrance (1610), which dissented in several points from orthodox Calvinism. It held, among other things, that God’s predestination was conditioned by human choice, that the gospel could be freely accepted or rejected, and that a person who had become a Christian could “fall from grace” or lose salvation.
The British theologian John Wesley studied and affirmed the work of Arminius in his Methodist movement during the 18th century in England. American Methodists for the most part have leaned toward the theology of the Remonstrants. In popular expression Arminianism has come to mean that no predestination exists and people are free to follow or reject the gospel.
The differences represented in these various orders of decrees, though you may think that they are highly speculative, actually represent vital differences in foundational doctrines.
The three views of the Calvinists state alike that Divine election is the sovereign choice of God, who expresses His grace apart from every form of human works foreseen or actual. On the other hand, the Arminian view, makes election to be no more than foreknowledge of human merit, and asserts that, in the end, man elects himself by his faith and obedience. The Arminian view is an intrusion of human reason upon the interpretation of scriptures. This is counter to both Eph 1:4 and 1 Peter 1:2.
Eph 1:4, “Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him.” This is positional sanctification due to our election, not experiential sanctification that causes our election.
Once we are saved, then we walk experientially sanctified by means of the Word and Spirit.
1 Peter 1:2, “According to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure.”
The Arminian interpretation says that election is the same thing as positional sanctification, instead of being an act of God that produces it.
Summary, Classification of Views:
When recognizing, more specifically, the divisions of theological thought concerning the extent of the value of the death of Christ, the “limited” redemptionists are divided into two general groups, and the “unlimited” redemptionists are also divided into two general groups, making in all four divisions.
See the chart on our website that compares them side by side. – Coming Soon
The positions held by each group may be defined briefly as follows:
The Hyper Calvinists who are limited redemptionists. This group is sometimes called the Hyper or Ultra Calvinist. It includes the Supralapsarians who, as has been noted, assert that the decree of Divine election stands first in the order of the elective decrees, even before the decree to create men, before the decree to permit the fall, and before the decree to provide salvation. This view has no place for an unlimited atonement or redemption, nor does it encourage the preaching of the gospel to those who, as they contend, are reprobated from the beginning.
The Moderate Calvinists who are limited redemptionists. This group includes the Sublapsarians. They are called “moderate,” because they believe that the decree to elect is preceded by the decree to create and the decree to permit the fall. Though they contend for a limited redemption, they make a place for world-wide preaching of the gospel and grant certain concessions not possible to the hyper-Calvinists.
The Moderate Calvinists who are unlimited redemptionists, (this is what we believe). This group includes the Infralapsarians. They defend all of the five points of Calvinism excepting one, namely, “Limited Atonement,” or what has been termed “the weakest point in the Calvinistic system of doctrine.”
They (we) place Election after the decree to create man, permit man to fall and provide salvation. Therefore, it provides for an unlimited atonement.
This form of moderate Calvinism is more the belief of Bible expositors than of the theologians, due to the truth that the Bible, taken in its natural terminology and apart from strained interpretations which are required to defend a theory, teaches an unlimited atonement and redemption.
They (we) believe that Christ died actually and fully for all men, that God has ordained the gospel is to be preached to all for whom Christ died, and that through the proclamation of the gospel, He will exercise His sovereign power in saving His elect.
This group (we) also believes in the absolute depravity of man and his total inability to believe apart from the enabling power of the Spirit, and that the death of Christ, being forensic, is a sufficient ground for any and every man to be saved, should the Spirit of God choose to draw him.
Finally, they (we) believe that the death of Christ of itself saves no man, either actually or potentially, but that it does render all men “savable”, and that salvation is made possible by God alone, and at the time the individual believes.
The Arminians. This group believes that Christ’s death was for all men alike, and that it secures for everyone a measure of common grace, whereby everyone is able to believe if he wills.
Yet, they do not believe that salvation is found in faith alone in Christ alone. Instead they believe it is by faith plus human works.
Nevertheless, they believe men are subject to divine judgment only on the ground of their willful rejection of Christ’s salvation, (which may be demonstrated in an unrighteous life style), albeit the rejection can also come from those who have previously believed; therefore, one can lose his salvation.
God decreed the creation of all mankind with free will in the status of perfection to resolve the prehistoric angelic conflict and to bring many sons into glory. “Being brought into glory,” Heb 2:10, means there is a Christian way of life, a way to glorify God after salvation, i.e., the fantastic spiritual life of the Church Age believer.
God decreed to permit the fall of mankind through the function of his own self-determination, his own volition, as the extension of the angelic conflict into human history. Angels had a fall; therefore, man must have a fall to resolve the conflict. This duplicates Satan’s fall and the subsequent existence of fallen angels.
God decreed to provide eternal salvation for all mankind, under the doctrine of unlimited atonement. God is fair and provides judgment for sin for all members of the human race. God does not arbitrarily assign creatures to hell. Unlimited atonement means that all sins in human history were imputed to Jesus Christ on the Cross and judged, so that Christ is the issue and not sins, 2 Cor 5:19; 1 Tim 4:10; Titus 2:11; 2 Peter 2:1; 1 John 2:2. The Greek preposition HUPER, plus the Genitive of Advantage from the adjective PAS, used as a substantive, and without the definite article is an idiom, which always means “as a substitute for everyone without exception,” 2 Cor 5:14-15; 1 Tim 2:6; Heb 2:9; Rom 5:6.
God decreed to leave the reprobate (Those who remain in spiritual death, because they reject Christ as Savior) to their just condemnation. All people who reach the point of volitional responsibility have equal opportunity to hear the gospel and believe in Jesus Christ.
God decreed simultaneously in eternity past, both election and predestination for believers only. The unbeliever is never predestined to hell.
God decreed to apply salvation to everyone who believes in Christ, as such, the decree to save the elect through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, Eph 2:8-9.
Therefore, the decree includes:
1) God consciousness, where people become aware of the existence of God. Each individual will have the means of hearing the gospel, regardless of geographical isolation or problems of linguistic barriers.
2) The decree includes common and efficacious grace.
3) This is the decree to provide election in eternity past for those who believe in Christ in time.
In summary L.S. Chafer noted, “It will be observed from the foregoing that the differences represented in these various orders of decrees, though they seem highly speculative to some, do represent vital doctrine at its very foundation. The three schools of Calvinists contend alike that divine election is the sovereign choice of God, which expresses His grace apart from every form of human works foreseen or actual; and that the Arminian school, by making election to be no more than foreknowledge of human merit, asserts that, in the end, man elects himself by his faith and obedience. The Calvinistic schools are the result of a faithful induction of the Word of God bearing on the elective decrees; whereas, the Arminian school is an intrusion of human reason.”
Passages which are all-inclusive in their scope (2 Cor. 5:14; 1 Tim. 2:6; 4: 10; Titus 2: 11; Rom. 5:6).
Passages which offer a universal gospel to men (John 3:16; Acts 10:43; Rev. 22:17, etc.).
Special passage, 2 Peter 2:1, wherein the ungodly false teachers of the last days, who bring swift destruction upon themselves, are said to “deny the Lord that bought them.” Men are thus said themselves to be ransomed, who deny the very ground of salvation, and who are destined to destruction.
When God looks upon the human race, He sees but two men, Adam and Christ.
Every human being is either “in Adam” and lost, or “in Christ” and saved; there is no middle ground.
Turn to Rom 5:1-21:
When Paul says in vs. 12 that “all have sinned,” he means that all of us sinned in Adam, when he sinned. We are identified with him as the “head” of the human race, and his sin is our sin, his death is our death.
Paul’s argument in vs. 12-14 goes like this: “We all know that a man dies if he disobeys God’s law. But there was no law from Adam to Moses, yet men died! We know that Adam died because he disobeyed a divine law; but the generations from Adam to Moses did not have such a law to disobey. Then death must be from another cause, and that cause is Adam’s sin. Because we are born “in Adam,” we inherit his sin and condemnation. But in His grace, God has given a “Last Adam,” a new “Head” who has by His life and death undone all that Adam did in his sin.”
In verses 15-20 we have several interesting comparisons:
Vs. 15-16 – The Offense vs. the Free Gift:
Adam’s offense brought condemnation and death, while the free gift of God’s grace brings justification and life.
Vs. 17 – Death vs. Life:
Death reigned as king because of Adam, but now believers reign in life, (right now, not only in the future), through Christ, and have abundant life!
Vs. 18 – Condemnation vs. Justification:
Adam’s sin plunged the human race into condemnation; Christ’s death brings right standing with God. Adam hid from God; in Christ, we have free access to God!
Vs. 19 – Disobedience vs. Obedience:
Adam disobeyed God and made us all sinners; Christ obeyed God, and through faith in Him, we are made righteous.
Vs. 20 – Law vs. Grace:
God did not give the Law to save mankind, but rather to reveal sin. But God’s super-abounding grace met the demands of the Law when Christ died, and then supplied what the Law could not supply; salvation from sin.
The whole transaction is summarized in vs. 20; in the new creation, 2 Cor 5:17, being “in Christ.”
- Sin no longer reigns, grace does!
- Death does not reign, life does!
- And we reign in life!
“Christ…has made us kings and priests to God,” Rev 1:5-6.
Rev 1:5-6, “And from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood— 6and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father—to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
Now, the important question is this: Am I “in Adam” or “in Christ”?
If I am “in Adam,” then sin and death reign over my life, and I am under condemnation.
If I am “in Christ,” then grace reigns, and I can reign in life through Christ, and sin no longer has me in its slavery, the theme of Romans chapter 6.
In Rom 5:6-11, Paul teaches substitution, Christ died for us on the cross. But in 5:12-21, he goes further and teaches identification, believers are in Christ and can live in victory over sin.
And all of this was made possible because of God the Father’s Divine Decree.
The two Adams contrast as follows:
- The first Adam was made from the earth, but the Last Adam (Christ) came from heaven, 1 Cor 15:47.
- The first Adam was the king of the old creation, Gen 1:26-27, while the Last Adam is King-Priest over the new creation, 2 Cor 5:17.
- The first Adam was tested in a perfect garden and disobeyed God, while the Last Adam was tested in a terrible wilderness and obeyed God; and in the Garden of Gethsemane, He surrendered His will to God.
- The disobedience of the first Adam brought sin, condemnation, and death upon the human race, but the obedience of the Last Adam brought righteousness, salvation, and life to all who will believe.
- Through the first Adam, death and sin reign in this world, 14, 17, 21; but through the Last Adam, grace reigns, vs. 21, and believers can “reign in life,” vs. 17.
The OT is “the book of the generations of Adam,” Gen. 5:1-2, and ends with the word “curse,” Mal. 4:6.
The NT is “the book of the generation of Jesus Christ,” Mat 1:1, and ends with “no more curse,” Rev 22:3.
The paradise of Genesis that Adam lost is restored in Revelation through the Cross of Christ.