We continue our study of Great Doctrines of the Bible by Martyn Lloyd-Jones (MLJ) by examining chapter 9 entitled, “The Eternal Decrees of God.” MLJ defines eternal decrees as “things which God determined and ordained before He had done anything at all” (93).
When discussing a topic such a this, MLJ states that we need to approach it with humility, reverence, and faith. Much like the doctrine of the Trinity, this truth can be difficult for our finite minds to understand. We must submit ourselves to the Scripture even where it’s difficult.
MLJ lays out six principles concerning the eternal decrees of God:
- From eternity God has had an unchangeable plan with reference to His creatures.
- The plan of God comprehends and determines all things and events of every kind that come to pass.
- All the decrees of God are unconditional and sovereign.
- The decrees of God are efficacious.
- The decrees of God are in all things perfectly consistent with His own most wise, benevolent and holy nature.
- The salvation of men and women and of angels, and of certain of them in particular, was determined by God before the foundation of the world.
In Ephesians 1 we are told God has lavished his grace upon us “making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time…” (vv. 9-10). Notice God’s will, his plan, comes to pass in the fullness of time. Proverbs 16:33 teaches that even something as small as a lot being cast is ultimately up to the Lord. Not even the death of a sparrow is an accident (Matt. 10:29), and the hairs of our head are numbered (Matt. 10:30). God’s working out his purposes he planned before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4-5), and cannot fail in anything that he desires to accomplish.
Even the free, voluntary actions of men do not thwart his plans. Proverbs 21:1 shows that the Lord directs the heart of the king wherever he desires. God is the one who works in us that we might desire to do good (Philippians 2:13). Our good works have been prepared by him beforehand (Eph. 1:10). While God is never the author of sin (Habakkuk 1:13; James 1:13), even the actions of sinful men with wrong motives are under his rule (Acts 4:27; Gen. 45:8; 50:20). None can stay his hand (Daniel 4:35). As the gospel is preached in the book of Acts, we are told that “as many as were appointed to eternal life believed” (13:48, see also 2 Thess. 2:13; John 6:37; 2 Tim. 1:9). So then, how can we be responsible for our actions if God is carrying out his will? Paul brings the question up in Romans 9, then answers it like this:
“Who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?” (vv. 20-21).
While these truths can often be beyond our finite ability to fully grasp, we must fully affirm the teaching of Scripture.
Why Does It Matter?
Why should we study such a difficult doctrine? MLJ gives us two reasons. First, we cannot pick and choose what parts of the Bible we like and believe in. While difficult, these truths are based on Scripture. Second, we study these truths to increase our knowledge and worship of God: “It will reveal to us fresh aspects of the glory of God Himself. It will give us, as it were, a greater and a grander conception of God, and that, in turn, will promote our worship of God” (94). Like all study of doctrine, it should lead us to love, worship, and serve God better.
Not only does a proper understanding of biblical doctrine stir our hearts for worship, but it also protects us against false teaching that will erode our faith. For example, open theism has become a popular teaching over the last 25 years. Open theists certainly don’t agree with MLJ on God’s eternal decrees. In fact, they would argue that God does not know the future. He set things in motion, and now he is looking at his creation and watching with anticipation to see what choices humans will make (because he doesn’t know). Because he doesn’t know the future, God, according to open theists, is able to make mistakes; he leads us to make the best educated decisions based on present facts, but there’s no guarantee he’s right.
One of the proponents of open theism, Gregory Boyd, provides an illustration of a woman whose husband had an affair. Boyd tells her that God didn’t know this would happen. In fact, it seemed like the husband was a godly man, and so God himself influenced her to marry him. However, because man has free choice, the man choose a dark path that led to immorality and divorce. Had God known the man would make such a hurtful decision he wouldn’t have encouraged their marriage. God led her to what he thought was the best option for her and it turned out he was wrong.
It’s not hard to see how such a doctrine contradicts Scripture’s teaching on the omniscience of God. If the god of the open theist is true, then why should we trust him? How can we place our faith in him when he could potentially lead us to make a wrong decision? Boyd thinks such a view of God is comforting because it gets him “off the hook” for the evil and suffering in the world, but the reality is it paints a picture of a powerless god who can’t be trusted and who’s not worthy of worship.
Instead, we see from Scripture that God knows all things and everything is under the rule of his sovereign hand. Knowing God’s omniscience and the truth of his eternal decrees gives us utmost confidence in him. We can trust him with our lives because he knows all things and is working out his plan for our good and his glory.
Let us bow before his Majesty. Let us humble ourselves in His holy presence. Let us submit ourselves to the revelation that He has so graciously been pleased to give (102).
Other posts in the “Great Doctrines of the Bible” series: