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Westminster Shorter Catechism Project

A Commentary
on the
Shorter Catechism

Alexander Whyte

Q. 7. What are the decrees of God ?
A. 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.

The decrees of God—A decree is a determination, an edict, a rule. It is an order from one having supreme authority, deciding what is to be done by a subordinate. "The word decree, or decrees, in the sense in which it issued in this Answer, is not found in the New Testament. It is a technical term, adopted by theologians to convey a complex idea; that is, to convey a number of ideas by a single term. The express design of the answer is to explain this term, and it is done almost wholly in the words of inspiration" (Green's Lectures). "The Scripture speaks of God's decrees, condescending therein to the conceptions of men. . . . Yet, what is in man imperfectly, is to be looked on as an image of God's proceedings herein, in a transcendent way of perfection" (Goodwin). "God does not do what He does, nor order what He orders, accidentally and unawares; either without or beside His intention. And if there be a foregoing design of doing and ordering as He does, this is the same with a purpose or decree" (Edwards). "The consideration of this great doctrine runs up into the most profound and inaccessible subjects that can occupy the minds of men,—the nature and attributes, the purposes and actings, of the infinite and incomprehensible Jehovah,—viewed especially in their bearings upon the everlasting destinies of His intelligent creatures. . . . Many men have indulged in the most presumptuous and irreverent speculation concerning it. There is probably no subject that has occupied more of the attention of intelligent men in every age. . . . All that the highest ability, ingenuity, and acuteness can effect has been brought to bear upon the discussion of this subject; but the difficulties attaching to it have never been solved, and we are well warranted in saying that they never will, unless either God give us a fuller revelation, or greatly enlarged capacities,—although, perhaps, it would be more correct to say, that, from the very nature of the case, a finite being can never fully comprehend it, since this would imply that he could fully comprehend the infinite mind" (Cunningham). Archbishop Leighton maintains that the utterances of the Catechism on the divine decrees are worthy of the subject: few, sober, clear, and certain.

his eternal purpose—" The second point included in this doctrine is, that the decrees of God are all reducible to one purpose. . . . They are not successively formed as the emergency arises, but are all parts of one all. comprehending plan. . . . As, however, this one purpose includes an indefinite number of events, and as these events are mutually related, we therefore speak of the decrees of God as many, and as having a certain order" (Hodge).

the counsel of his will—"You know counsel referreth to the understanding, to the judgment. It is a considering what one meaneth to do, how to do it, and to do it the best way, and most wisely: that is properly counsel. There is something in counsel which is in man which must not be attributed unto God, and something in man which may be attributed unto God: for we must cut off all imperfection in what we attribute unto God. There are two things in counsel in a man. There is, first, a discourse and inquiry which is best; he setteth his reason a-work, and one thought cometh in after another. And then there is, secondly, a judgment, when he hath considered all, which is best. Now, the first part we must cut off from God; He doth not advise and deliberate as men do, to take this thing, or that thing, one after another, by way of inquiry into His mind. No, for known unto God are all His works from eternity. How then is counsel attributed unto God? Thu : that which is the result, that which ariseth in men's minds or judgments out of inquiry, a mature pitching upon what is best; this view, which is the perfection of counsel, which is the ripening and maturing of it, this is attributed unto God. This is certain judicium, a certain judgment of what is best to do" (Goodwin).

for his own glory—"The general end of God's external working is the exercise of His most glorious and most abundant virtues. . . . Not that anything is made to be beneficial unto Him, but all things for Him to show beneficence and grace in them" (Hooker). See Question 1.

whatsoever comes to pass. With this proviso, which is given in Hodge's words : "The decretive and the preceptive will of God can never be in conflict. God never decrees to do, or to cause others to do, what He forbids. He permits men to sin, although sin is forbidden. But God cannot decree to make men sin." See Question 53.


"Even so, Thou, Father, hast ordained
Thy high decree to stand;
Nor men nor angels may presume
The reason to demand."—PAR. xxxiv. 3.

2. "The doctrine of this high mystery is to be handled with special prudence and care" (Confession). And Turretino maintains that it should be taught, yet he says it is a subject more proper for the school than the pulpit.

3. "Doth God work all things according to His will? Then give up thy will to Him. ‘It is not in man,' saith Jeremiah, ‘to direct his steps.' It is God that must direct them for thee, for He works all things according to His will. If any man in the world, if his understanding and will were a rule to mine, and I knew he were infallible, I would certainly go give up all my ways to what he saith. As you say you must be ruled by him who bears the purse, so you must be ruled by him who bears the understanding. Certainly, if any man hath an infallible understanding, I will be ruled by him. God bath: He works all things, and all effectually, by the counsel of His own will. Therefore in all thy ways give up thyself to Him" (Goodwin).


1. Explain the phrase, Confession, III. 1; liberty or contingency of second causes.

2. Compare 2 Peter 1:10 with Confesston, III. 8.

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