Calvinism and God’s Unchangeable Decrees
Many in the denominational world believe that whatever happens in life, it is by God's own unchangeable will and decree. So that no matter what happens in life, God causes it to happen! Is this true? Calvinists say so, but what does God say?
The Calvinistic Presbyterian Confession of Faith states:
"God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass." (Presbyterian Confession of Faith, chap. 3, sec. 1)
The Calvinistic "Westminster Larger Catechism" States:
Question 12: What are the decrees of God? Answer: God's decrees are the wise, free, and holy acts of the counsel of his will, whereby, from all eternity, he has, for his own glory, unchangeably foreordained: Whatsoever comes to pass in time, especially concerning angels and men.
According to Calvinism, whatever a person does is in keeping with and brought about by God's fore-ordination or decree. But, if it is brought about by God's decree, we must ask, how could it be "wrong?" If a person does anything, it doesn’t matter what it is, whether good or evil, since God has ordained everything, He has ordained that thing. How could a person keep God's plan and be counted guilty of sin?
This fundamental fact under-pins the doctrine of Calvinism. That whatever in life happens, whether it be good, or whether it be evil, God has already ordained it.
Ordain: According to Webster’s dictionary the term Ordain means “to establish or order by appointment, decree, or law.” (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ordain)
The Calvinist therefore concludes that anything that happens, is God by His decree making it happen.
Are God's Decrees Always Unchangeable? Old Testament Examples
In Jonah chapter 1. God told Jonah to go to Nineveh.
Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.
Notice in the third chapter:
And the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the second time, saying, Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee. So Jonah arose, and went unto Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceeding great city of three days' journey. And Jonah began to enter into the city a day's journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown. (Jonah 3:1-4)
Here was an entire city that was completely wicked. God determined that this city would be overthrown. Notice God's decree: … Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown. (Jonah 3:4)
There is no doubt about this decree. God told Jonah that Nineveh will be destroyed. According to Calvinism, anything that God decrees, he makes happen. According to the Calvinist these decrees are “unchangeably foreordained:”
But questions must be asked.
If there is nothing they can do about their predicament then why preach to them? He said, to go and preach. But why? What good will it do? God has already unchangeably foreordained the end of Nineveh. Calvinism teaches that there is nothing that these poor souls in Nineveh could do to stop God’s judgment from coming upon them.
Let us continue reading. “and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.”
5So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. 6For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 7And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water: 8But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands. 9Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not? 10And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.
Recall that God made a decree. The Calvinist says it is absolutely unchangeable. Yet that is not what we see in these verses. God who is rich in mercy sent a preacher to warn these sinful people. They heeded the warning, they repented and the thing that God originally had in mind, God did not accomplish. Why? Because God gave man a choice; to turn and follow him. On this occasion man chose to do right.
It is alledged by Calvinists that if man 'thwarts' the plans of God then that means man is more powerful than God. Does this example show that man is more powerful than God? Absolutely not! At any time God could have destroyed the city. But, because the people repented at the preaching of Jonah, God showed mercy on them.
This is consistent with the prophet Jeremiah:
6O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the LORD. Behold, as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel. 7At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it; 8If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. (Jeremiah 18:6-8)
In these situations God still has complete power to do what He wants. Yet, He is showing his Mercy, not His Power.
We need to recall what the Calvinist says:
"God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass." (Presbyterian Confession of Faith, chap. 3, sec. 1)
Is that statement true? Does God, out of his own wise and holy counsel, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass or not?
We just saw one place in scripture where He did not.
Quibble #1 “That is exactly how God planned it out”
Now someone might say, “well, it came to pass, just like God wanted. He actually wanted it to happen just like it did. They repented just like he ordained all along that they would.” I would be extremely careful about using this argument because, if that is the case, then God told a full throated lie to Jonah. Because God told Jonah Nineveh would be destroyed. If God told Jonah Nineveh would be destroyed, fully knowing that they would not be destroyed, God lied to Jonah.
In the days of Isaiah, King Hezekiah was sick near unto death and Isaiah came to tell him the decree of the Lord. Notice:
1In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz came to him, and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live.
Poor King Hezekiah; here he is next to death and Isaiah speaking for God, says, You better set your things in order because you are going to die. The decree of God goes out - Hezekiah is going to die.
According to the Calvinist, God ordains everything and not just does he ordain it, it is an unchangeable ordination. That means that even if God wanted to change it, he couldn’t. (that is what the word unchangeable means.)
Let us read of the death of poor Hezekiah.
2Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall, and prayed unto the LORD, saying, 3I beseech thee, O LORD, remember now how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight. And Hezekiah wept sore. 4And it came to pass, afore Isaiah was gone out into the middle court, that the word of the LORD came to him, saying, 5Turn again, and tell Hezekiah the captain of my people, Thus saith the LORD, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will heal thee: on the third day thou shalt go up unto the house of the LORD. 6And I will add unto thy days fifteen years; and I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city for mine own sake, and for my servant David's sake. (2 Kings 20; Isa. 38)
According to Calvinist Hezekiah should have died as per God's unchangeable decree. However, that is not what happened. A man changed the mind of God. That does not preclude God from being "all powerful", it simply shows the side of a merciful God.
David and Saul
You remember the battle between David and Saul? Rather, it was mostly Saul trying to kill David. He would chase him all over the place trying to capture and kill David. In 1 Samuel 23:7 Saul found out that David was in a town called Keilah. A town that had gates and bars. Not a very good place for David to be if he didn’t want to be captured.
David finds out about Saul’s plan to have the men of Keilah arrest or bring David to Saul. So in verse 10 David goes to God in prayer.
10Then said David, O LORD God of Israel, thy servant hath certainly heard that Saul seeketh to come to Keilah, to destroy the city for my sake. 11Will the men of Keilah deliver me up into his hand? will Saul come down, as thy servant hath heard? O LORD God of Israel, I beseech thee, tell thy servant. And the LORD said, He will come down. (1 Sam. 23:10-11)
There is God’s “unchangeable” decree. Yes, he will come down. What else David?
12Then said David, Will the men of Keilah deliver me and my men into the hand of Saul? And the LORD said, They will deliver thee up. (v12)
Well, that is that. God has decreed it and since God has decreed it, and the Calvinist says that God’s decrees are unchangeable, then David is stuck. He can’t do anything in the world about it... Or can he?
13Then David and his men, which were about six hundred, arose and departed out of Keilah, and went whithersoever they could go. And it was told Saul that David was escaped from Keilah; and he forbare to go forth.
The truth is: The word of the Lord came as a warning to David. David then changed his mind about his situation. His change of mind led about a change of circumstances for him. Just as the case with those in Nineveh. The men of Nineveh were awful sinners. By the decree of God they were to be destroyed. The warning of the Lord came to the people of Nineveh and their change of heart brought about a different set of circumstances for them. Why? Because God gives man freedom of choice. Man can change his life and his circumstances he so chooses.
Notice: But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die (Ezekiel 18:21)
God Gives Man Choice: Old Testament Examples
Israel An Example of Freedom of Choice
In Hebrews 11:24-26 as is recorded also in the book of Exodus. The Bible tells us that Moses had a choice to make, to serve God or to stay in Egypt and enjoy the pleasures of the Palace. The text says that Moses chose God over the pleasure of life in Egypt. Could Moses have rejected God? Yes, he could have. The reason he is seen as Faithful is because he chose not to serve Pharoah when he had the opportunity to continue to keep serving Pharoah.
The Israelite People
In Exodus 12 it is recorded that God was going to kill the firstborn of every house. He gave the people an option. He gave them commands. He said they were to put the lambs blood on the doorposts. He states that if they would obey him then they would be spared. The choice was theirs to make.
Exodus 32 – Moses was upon the Mount and the people talked Aaron into making a golden calf. God was so angry at his people He wanted to destroy them! In fact, God had made a decree that He would destroy the Israelites. He said, these people were stiff-necked. He said "now leave me alone that I may destroy them." But, according to verse 10 of that chapter, Moses, by his words changed the mind of God. That did not mean that Moses was more powerful than God. Instead, it showed that God in His mercy was moved by the words and actions of Moses, such that He willingly changed His mind.
Moses then told them to consecrate themselves before the Lord. He called out to the people and said “who is on the Lord’s side, let him come and be with me. Some of the people chose to come and be on Moses side. Moses then told the ones who chose to be on his side to go and slay the others and the Bible records that roughly 3000 of the people died that day. Some men chose to obey God, some chose not to obey God. Those who obeyed were rewarded and those who refused to obey were destroyed. It was not, as the Calvinist must claim, because God unchangeably ordained them disobey but rather it was because they chose disobedience.
Leviticus 26- God again, speaking to Israel, says:
1Ye shall make you no idols nor graven image, neither rear you up a standing image, neither shall ye set up any image of stone in your land, to bow down unto it: for I am the LORD your God. 2Ye shall keep my sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary: I am the LORD. 3If ye walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments, and do them; 4Then I will give you rain in due season, and the land shall yield her increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit.
Notice: If you will obey and if- you will walk in my statutes, then I will give you rain… I will bless you.
But God, what happens if they choose not to obey?
14But if ye will not hearken unto me, and will not do all these commandments; 15And if ye shall despise my statutes, or if your soul abhor my judgments, so that ye will not do all my commandments, but that ye break my covenant: 16I also will do this unto you; I will even appoint over you terror, consumption, and the burning ague, that shall consume the eyes, and cause sorrow of heart: and ye shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it.
Clearly, this shows that man had a choice. That is exactly what the ‘if-then’ statement means. You can read the same over in Deuteronomy 28, as well.
Quibble #2 “Lives not Souls”
Now some Calvinist might say, "these people are merely saving their lives. God does not give them a choice to save their souls but only their lives."
Well, let’s talk about the argument from lesser to the greater for a minute. What does that mean, to argue from lesser to greater? Simply this: Objects have properties of lesser and greater extents. If the lesser can be proven, the greater should be able likewise to be proven.
For example, in Matthew 6:30 Our Lord argues from lesser to greater when he makes this statement.
30Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?
Grass is ‘less’ than man, and God cares for it. Man is greater than grass he says and then he argues, how much more then, does God care for man than grass?
We argue from lesser to greater in this: If God has given man the choice to save his own life how much more the choice to save his soul by obedience to the Word. The Soul is worth much more than a life. The Bible is full of examples and references to men saving their souls and valuing their souls more than their lives. Why would God allow mankind to make choices to save their lives but refuse to allow them the opportunity to save their souls? Why allow the less, but not the greater?
Joshua to the Israelites
Over in Joshua chapter 24, as Joshua is preparing to die, he stands and by inspiration says.
15And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.
Joshua believed that God gave mankind choice. Is serving God or serving Idols, a matter of the body or the Soul? Obviously the soul is involved in the decision. Joshua believed God gave man a choice - Do you believe that? On and on this could go, throughout the whole Bible.
More about Israel's ability to Choose:
In Judges 5:7 – we are told that the people “chose new gods."
Judges 10:14 – he said, "Go and cry out to the gods which you have chosen." They had a choice to make, who to serve, they chose incorrectly.
In I Samuel chapter 8 – Israel chooses to have a king. God did not want them to have a king. He had no plan on giving them an earthly king. Because they chose to have one, he said they were speaking against him. He allowed them, against his own desire, to have a king.
I Kings 8 – Solomon is in the middle of prayer and what is said? When the people sin and you punish them, if they turn back to you, accept their prayers towards this place
Notice: If they do? If they turn back; that tells me these people have a choice to make.
I Kings 18:21 in that great battle between the prophets of Baal, and Elijah, the prophet of God. Elijah says, how long will you falter between to opinions? You have choices to make, he says, and here they are: If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, follow him. Yet, God did not unchangeably foreordain those men to worship Baal! He gave them a choice to make. They simply chose incorrectly.
David Had Freedom of Choice
Ps. 119:30 30I have chosen the way of truth: thy judgments have I laid before me. He says in the same chapter Ps. 119:173 – I have chosen your precepts
God's Prophets Claim Israel had Freedom of Choice
11Therefore I am full of the fury of the LORD; I am weary with holding in: I will pour it out upon the children abroad, and upon the assembly of young men together: for even the husband with the wife shall be taken, the aged with him that is full of days. 12And their houses shall be turned unto others, with their fields and wives together: for I will stretch out my hand upon the inhabitants of the land, saith the LORD. 13For from the least of them even unto the greatest of them every one is given to covetousness; and from the prophet even unto the priest every one dealeth falsely. 14They have healed also the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace. 15Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush: therefore they shall fall among them that fall: at the time that I visit them they shall be cast down, saith the LORD. 16Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein. 17Also I set watchmen over you, saying, Hearken to the sound of the trumpet. But they said, We will not hearken. 18Therefore hear, ye nations, and know, O congregation, what is among them. 19Hear, O earth: behold, I will bring evil upon this people, even the fruit of their thoughts, because they have not hearkened unto my words, nor to my law, but rejected it. (Jer. 6:11-19)
These people were destroyed not because God wanted it so and certainly not because "God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass." (Presbyterian Confession of Faith, chap. 3, sec. 1)
Notice why God says they would be destroyed.
19Hear, O earth: behold, I will bring evil upon this people, even the fruit of their thoughts, because they have not hearkened unto my words, nor to my law, but rejected it.
The choice was the people’s to make. To follow God or not to follow Him. They chose not to follow.
In Hosea 4, God is trying to get his people to come back to him. He says, I have been so good to you. I’ve given you bread to eat. I’ve given you clean teeth. I gave you rain when you needed it. I withheld it when you didn’t want it. I even tried to get you to return to me by sending plagues and famines. I’ve even sent enemies to you all so you would come back to me. But, you refuse.
I will destroy you just like Sodom and Gomorrha. Now look yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD. Therefore thus will I do unto thee, O Israel: and because I will do this unto thee, prepare to meet thy God, O Israel. (Hosea 4:11-12)
Why was this going to happen? It was not as the Calvinist must conclude because God forced them to refuse His will. Why would God destroy them? Because God gave them choice to make ; to obey or disobey and they chose to disobey.
New Testament Examples of Freedom of Choice
Jesus says in Matthew 6 in speaking of gaining the Kingdom of Heaven, and he says it is by choice. Look
44Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field. 45Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: 46Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it. (Matt. 6:44-46)
Men came upon these treasures and they had a choice to make. Keep the treasures they already had or sell it all and buy the treasure of great price (Heaven.) They both chose wisely. But, it was their choice to make! God gives all man the same choice today.
Annanias and Sapphira
In Acts 5 – Ananias and Sapphira could have made a different decision –remember they chose to lie to God about selling their own land and giving money to the Apostles. Peter said to them, "While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control?" Why did you choose to lie to God?
Are we to believe the Calvinist's conclusion that God forcibly saved these two individuals. Then, unchangeably foreordained them to lie and lose their souls? This is the Calvinist’s God. But it is not the God of the Bible. The fact is he God of the Bible gave them freedom of choice. They chose poorly and it cost them their lives and souls. But, it was a choice for them to make.
Recall the Calvinist teaching:
“God's decrees are the wise, free, and holy acts of the counsel of his will, whereby, from all eternity, he has, for his own glory, unchangeably foreordained: Whatsoever comes to pass in time, especially concerning angels and men.”
According to the Calvinist anything that comes to pass God has caused it to happen. It is clear from the Bible however that God gave man freedom of choice.
Jesus Claims That Man Has Freedom of Choice
We will end this study with the words of Jesus as recorded in Matthew 7:21.
21Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
There is a choice that must be made. We ask Jesus, "Lord, who gets to enter the kingdom of Heaven?" Is it everyone who ‘chooses’ to say “Lord, Lord”? No, He says, simply saying those words does not allow them entrance into the kingdom. Then, what does? Jesus' answer is; Anyone who chooses to do what God says to do may enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
Anyone may choose to follow the Lord. Or, anyone may choose not to follow the Lord. He will not and does not "...for his own glory, unchangeably foreordained: Whatsoever comes to pass in time, especially concerning angels and men.”
Rather, he gives man choices to make, and judges them by the choices that they make.