This Day in Presbyterian History:
A Comforting Truth for all Christians
With no Presbyterian person, place, or event on this twentieth of February available from our circles, we return to our magnificent shorter catechism to a question and answer which provide unspeakable comfort to the people of God. It is question and answer 7 which deals with the decrees of God. Our Confessional fathers wrote, “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.”
We should not stumble at the word “decrees.” Oftentimes it has evil associations when used for or by mankind, but never when used of God. The decrees of God are defined as “His eternal purpose.” We speak here about the plan of God for both eternity and time. When we understood this is what is intended, the idea of a divine decree becomes, as one commentator put it, “less contested and detested.”
It is interesting that there is some difference between the Shorter and Larger Catechisms. The former, which is our emphasis on this day, would speak of “purpose” in a singular sense. It is “purpose,” not “purposes.” The decrees of God in the Shorter Catechism are represented in their unity. But when we move to the Larger Catechism, we see the decrees of God being spoken of in their plurality, as the fathers speak of “the acts of the counsel of his will.” There is no contradiction here. God’s decrees are one and also many, or one whole of many parts which are involved in the eternal plan.
Then we come to the heart of the matter, namely, that which is most comforting to believers, is that “God has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass for His own glory.” And He has done this not only in creation and providence, but also in redemption. Future studies during this historical devotional will be found on these aspects of the decrees of God.
For now, we receive comfort that this catechism is true. Proverbs 16:9 has been the life text of many a believer that “the heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.” We are to use our God-given sanctified minds to plan our ways on this earth. And so we set down our yearly and monthly and daily goals, according to the best wisdom which we have. But then we set them apart for God’s will, knowing and trusting that Jehovah God will establish our steps, either by the closing of doors or the opening of other doors. How many times have believers looked back on their lives and seen these divine steps which could only have come from the God of all grace! Especially is this true in the matter of our salvation. Salvation is of the LORD!
Words to Live By: Praise God today, and always, that God is in control of all persons, places, and things. We may not always see it with our eyes, but our hearts can rejoice that what the Bible declares about His sovereignty is true. Indeed you can look back and see that God’s Word was best with respect to you and your family. Take one or two of these backward looks, and give thanks to God for it.
Through the Scriptures: Numbers 11 – 14
Through the Standards: The Sinfulness of Mankind, as seen by the Confession
“They being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed; and the same death in sin, and corrupted nature, conveyed to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation.”