Catechetical sermons preached in PCC Evening Worship Services, Feb 2013 to Dec 2017
WSC 7 of 107
Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, 10 Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure: 11 Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it.Isaiah 46:9-11
WSC 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 fore-ordained whatsoever comes to pass.aa Eph 1:4,11; Rom 9:22,23
We are in the midst of a series of messages based on the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Over the last few studies, we have been considering who God is, or what we are to believe concerning God. We concluded that there is only one living and true God. He is infinite, eternal and unchangeable in His perfections, and He is triune. There are three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.
We noted that this doctrine of the Trinity distinguishes Christians from non-Christians. Liberal Christians who do not believe in the Trinity are not Christians. They may claim to be Christian. They may seem to have a Christian culture and worship, but they are not Christian. They have a different religions. The Jesus they claim to love is not the Jesus of the Bible.
In this sermon, we will look at another aspect of God that is also not accepted universally amongst those who claim to be Christian. But unlike in the case of the doctrine of the Trinity, a significant proportion of those who are generally regarded as Christian do not believe it. All who are generally regarded as Christian accept the doctrine of the Trinity, but not all believe this doctrine. I am referring to the sovereignty of God, or the fact that God has, before the beginning of time, foreordained or planned whatsoever comes to pass.
This is the doctrine underlying Question 7 of our Shorter Catechism.
WSC 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 fore-ordained whatsoever comes to pass.
Sadly many professing Christians do not appreciate or believe the doctrine expressed in this statement.
Let me say it again. Look at all the people in the world who claim to be Christians. Take away all who do not believe in the doctrine of the Trinity—whether they are cults or liberals. Now, you have professing Christians who confess the doctrine of the Trinity. Most people will regard them as legitimately Christian. However, the reality is that a considerable proportion of these professing Christians do not believe in the doctrine we are concerned with in this study.
Is it essential for us to know and believe this doctrine? Let the Word of God give us the answer. We take our text from Isaiah 46:9-11.
The Prophet Isaiah ministered during a period of great turmoil in the history of God’s people. There had been a succession of two reasonably good kings in Judah, Uzziah and Jotham (2 Chr 26-26). But the people were apostatising. Soon a very wicked king by the name of Ahaz arose. He was so wicked that he even practised human sacrifice in the valley of Hinnom. He sacrificed his own children. When the Northern Kingdom, Israel, joined up with Syria to harass Judah, Ahaz sought help from the Assyrians. After that, Ahaz decided to introduce Assyrian worship into Judah.
The son of Ahaz, Hezekiah, was a good king. Hezekiah sought to purge Judah of idolatrous worship and broke off relations with the Assyrians. But the Assyrians were enraged. During his reign, they went on a rampage. They conquered and destroyed Samaria. The ten tribes of Israel were either slaughtered or scattered. Then the Assyrians came down to Judah. Many Judean cities fell to them. Thankfully when they besieged Jerusalem and Hezekiah sought the Lord’s help, the Lord delivered them. One hundred eighty-five thousand of the Assyrian army were killed in one night. So, they retreated.
But the problems of Judah were far from over. Soon, there arose another king, Manasseh, the son of Hezekiah. Manasseh was undoubtedly the most wicked king who ever ruled over Judah. Manasseh would later repent of his sins, but he did so much damage in his reign of terror and idolatry that God declared He would punish Judah by sending her into exile no matter what happened next.
All these happened during Isaiah’s ministry. Isaiah recorded the events. He probably died during the initial years of Manasseh, but not before foreseeing the upcoming upheavals in the world. He saw that the Babylonians would arise, and they would conquer the Assyrians (chap 10). He saw also that the Babylonians would attack Jerusalem and that the Jews would be sent into exile (chap 39). He saw further that the Medo-Persians would arise, and they would destroy Babylon (chap 13), and strikingly, he saw that a Medo-Persian king by the name of Cyrus would allow the Jews to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple (Isa 44:28; 45:1).
Isaiah 46 is part of God’s warning against Babylon. Bel and Nebo in verse 1 are the names of Babylonian idols. Like many people in the Ancient Near Eastern Cultures, the Babylonians were henotheistic. They believed that their gods were their protectors. But Bel and Nebo could not protect them. They would be carried captive upon bullock carts (v. 1-2).
What a stark contrast with the God of Israel, who sustains and carries His people from infancy to old age (v. 3-4). The God of Israel is perfectly capable of delivering His people from their troubles (v. 4).
Amid all the pagan boastings about the superiority of their gods, God wants His people not just to accept that He is different from other gods. He wants them to think carefully about how He is different. He says: “To whom will ye liken me, and make me equal, and compare me?” (Isa 46:5).
This is, essentially, a challenge to think, analyse, compare, and conclude. God does not want us simply to trust and obey Him. He wants us to know whom we believe. He wants us to hold fast the knowledge of who He is. “Remember this, and shew yourselves men: bring it again to mind, O ye transgressors,” he says (Isa 46:8).
What does He want us to remember? What does He want us to hold in mind about Him in contradistinction to false gods? The answer is found in our text, verse 9:
Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, 10 Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure: 11 Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it.
What would the Lord want us to know from these words? Let me propose four lessons.
- First, God wants us to be sure that He is absolutely unique.
- Secondly, God has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.
- Thirdly, God will fulfil all His plans.
- Fourthly, God sometimes reveals His plans.
1. God Is Absolutely Unique
Our text shows that God wants us to be absolutely clear that He is unique. He says, verse 9:
Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me….
By the phrase “Remember the former things of old”, God is suggesting that what He wants us to remember is an ancient and inviolable truth. And notice how God repeats the truth to indicate that it is absolutely important: “I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me….”
In Hebrew speech, repetition is a means for strong emphasis. If God says twice in one breath that He is God and there is none else, then it behoves us not only to know, but to believe and to hold fast to the fact that He is God and there is none else. Not only is He saying He is the alone living and true God, but He is also saying He is unique and no one can be compared to Him.
The God who reveals Himself in His Word is the living and true God. Let none imagine He is the same as the gods of false religions. God would be untruthful and schizophrenic if He revealed Himself to be unique in the Scripture and chose to reveal Himself to the followers of a different religion that He is something else.
Let all who hold to pluralism take note. God is unique, and He does not want us to think of Him in any other way than the way that He has revealed Himself in the Scriptures. The God of the Bible is not the God of modern Jews or of Muslims. He alone is the living and true God, and there is none else, and there is none like Him.
How is God unique? We noted in an earlier sermon that He is triune. But now we must understand that God is not only triune. Indeed, in our text, we see how God wants us to concentrate on one aspect of Him that distinguishes Him from false gods, namely that He has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.
2. God Has Foreordained Everything
Look at the text again, verse 9:
Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, 10 Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.
Notice how God qualifies that He is unique (v. 9) because He declares the end from the beginning (v. 10)? Can you see how He is stating that this is that aspect of Him that makes Him unique?
What is it to declare the end from the beginning? Make no mistake; God is not just saying He foreknows what will happen. Some people think God is saying this, but he is not.
How do we know that? Look at the following words. He says: “Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.” Can you see the point? God is not saying: “I foresaw the end from the beginning,” but rather, “I planned the end from the beginning,” or I foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.
During the days of the Reformation, there was a Dutch humanist by the name of Desiderius Erasmus. This is the Erasmus who first gave us the Textus Receptus, or the Greek text underlying the KJV. Because he was such a gifted man and was sympathetic to the Protestant cause, Luther was tempted to unite with him and to work together with him. However, a profound difference between Luther and Erasmus soon surfaced.
Luther was a biblical scholar. To him, theology must be derived from the Scriptures entirely. Erasmus was a humanist. To him, reason is superior to Scripture. He argued that God could not have absolutely foreordained everything because that would obliterate human free will. It must be that God only foresaw what was going to happen and then sought the cooperation of men to bring about what He desired.
Luther disagreed vehemently. He saw how God had revealed Himself as having foreordained everything. God declared the end from the beginning, not because He looked down the corridor of time and foresaw what would happen. Instead, He foresaw because He foreordained everything and would ensure that everything comes to pass according to His sovereign decree.
Man’s free will is a non-entity because he is bound to his nature. It is God, not man, who brings about the end. If man has freewill, then God is not sovereign. If God is sovereign and good, then man is not free. Erasmus could not have it both ways. According to Luther, Erasmus’ doctrine makes him sound like a drunken man asleep, blurting out between snores, “Yes,” “No”, “Yes”, “No.”
Thank God that we are clearly taught in the Scriptures. God has declared the end from the beginning. He has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.
What has God foreordained? He has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass!
Has God foreordained all the events that happened in the natural world, such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions? Yes, for we read in Acts 15:18—“Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.”
Has He foreordained the rise and fall of nations? Yes, this is precisely what God is highlighting in our text. Isaiah foresaw the downfall of the Assyrians and the Babylonians because God, who ordained all things, revealed it to him.
Has He foreordained our salvation? Yes, the apostle Paul reminds us in Ephesians chapter 1 that God has chosen us from before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love (v. 4).
Has He foreordained even things that are supposedly accidental and things that are morally evil? Yes, look at the following:
- Proverbs 16:4: “The LORD hath made all things for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil.”
- Amos 3:6: “Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it? ”
- Isaiah 45:7: “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.”
What about the greatest evil that has ever happened in human history, namely the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ? Yes, even that: for did not the apostle Peter declared that Christ was delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God? (Look at Acts 2:23). The Jews took Him and by wicked hands crucified and slew Him, but what took place happened exactly as God had foreordained according to the counsel of His will from all eternity.
Beloved brethren and children, do you believe that God has foreordained whatever comes to pass? Remember that this is an important doctrine. If you don’t believe it, you don’t really believe God. This is an aspect of God that God has specifically stated as distinguishing Him from false gods. If your God has not foreordained whatsoever comes to pass, then He is by implication a false God, and not the God who has spoken through the Bible—even if you believe that He is triune.
But now, thirdly, and related to the second point, let us note that God will fulfil all his plans.
3. God Will Fulfill His Plans
God says: “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure” (v. 10b).
Let us understand from these words that God’s foreordination is unchangeable. God does not change His mind. Job says concerning God, “He is in one mind, and who can turn him?” (Job 23:13a). Thus, the prophet Balaam declares, “God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?” (Num 23:19).
Whatever God has decreed will come to pass. This is an important truth. How does God fulfil His plans? Our Shorter Catechism, Q. 8 asks: “How doth God execute His decrees?” This is the same as asking how God fulfils His plan. And the answer is: “God executeth His decrees in the works of Creation and Providence.”
Whatever God decreed to bring into existence, He will bring into existence by the work of creation. Whatever God decreed to happen to His creation, He will bring to pass by His work of providence. We will look at these two works of God in greater detail in our subsequent messages.
But for now, following what God says in our text, let us not imagine that we can make God change His mind through prayer. No, no; God has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass. Prayer is a privilege accorded by God for us to participate in the outworking of His providence. But let us remember that even our prayers were foreordained. The Psalmist says: “For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether” (Ps 139:4).
God is pleased to order providence according to our prayers so that it may indeed be said that God answers prayers, but let none of us boast that we made God change His mind through our prayers. Instead, let us have the same attitude as our Saviour who prayed, “Not my will, but thine be done.”
Let us thank God that His will is always best. God has ordained all things with two goals in mind. First, it is for the praise of His own glory (Eph 1:6, 12, 14). Secondly, it is for the good of His people. “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28). Let us learn to praise God and to thank Him in all circumstances. Let us not be vengeful or beat ourselves up if things do not turn out as we desire: for God will always do according to His good pleasure.
But now, let us consider how God sometimes makes His plans known.
4. God Sometimes Reveals His Plans
This is what He says in the rest of the statement:
Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it. (v. 11)
This ravenous bird, no doubt, refers to Cyrus, the Medo-Persian king. God wants to show the Jews and also the Babylonians that He is indeed the living and true God who foreordains whatsoever comes to pass. How does He show it? He shows it by naming the Persian king who would conquer Babylon even before Babylon conquered Jerusalem. Cyrus captured Babylon in 539 BC. When did Isaiah prophesy? Around 700 BC, or at the latest 640 BC. That would be at least 100 years before Cyrus captured Babylon. Cyrus was not even conceived yet.
But God revealed to Isaiah that Cyrus would capture Babylon and let the people return home. Cyrus was not even born when the prophecy was made. Can you imagine how it would strengthen the faith of God’s people when they heard about the king coming on the throne and then giving them permission to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple? Oh, what a thrill must have filled their souls to know that God is indeed the living and true God!
In any case, the ability to show what was going to happen became the acid test in Isaiah’s days to distinguish between God and the idols of the world. Look at Isaiah 41:22-23. This is a challenge to idolaters and their idols in Judah:
Let them bring them forth, and shew us what shall happen: let them shew the former things, what they be, that we may consider them, and know the latter end of them; or declare us things for to come. 23 Shew the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that ye are gods: yea, do good, or do evil, that we may be dismayed, and behold it together.
God demonstrated that He is a sovereign God by proving that He has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass; and that all things would happen as He has said.
What about today? Does God still need to use the same proof?
Well, beloved brethren and children, don’t be foolish! God has already given the proof! The crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ is the proof! The death of Christ for God’s elect was foreordained before the foundation of the world, and it was revealed in the Old Testament in numerous passages. Indeed, 1000 years before Christ was born, it was prophesied that He would be crucified on the cross! Look at Psalm 22:14-18:
I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. 15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death. 16 For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet. 17 I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me. 18 They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.
Can you see how this is a prophecy about the Lord Jesus Christ? “They pierced my hands and my feet. I may tell all my bones.” Surely this is a description of the crucifixion!
And Christ has come. He has suffered and died as it was foreordained and prophesied. Will anyone be so hardened as to require another proof from God?
Will anyone still doubt that the sovereign, living and true God has declared the end from the beginning? Will anyone still think that God merely foresees the future rather than foreordains everything that comes to pass?
As our Shorter Catechism (Q7) teaches us:
The decrees of God are, His eternal purpose, according to the counsel of His will, whereby, for his own glory, He hath fore-ordained whatsoever comes to pass.
Although this question is about the decrees of God, I trust that you can see how it is indirectly a declaration that the God we believe and serve is a sovereign God who has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass for His own glory.
But why is it essential for us to hold to this doctrine? Well, let me briefly state seven reasons as we conclude.
a. First, our text shows us that not believing that God is absolutely sovereign is to deny God. God has pinned His uniqueness upon the fact that He declares the end from the beginning and that His counsel shall stand. In other words, in the self-declaration of God, God is God only if He declares the end from the beginning and His counsel stands.
If you do not believe this truth about God, you are denying God. You are severely dishonouring Him by your unbelief! This is not a secondary doctrine!
b. Secondly, knowing and believing that God is sovereign and that He has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass rids us of superstition. There is no such thing as luck, fengshui or fate. I heard the pastor of a megachurch in Singapore say that predestination is essentially fate. No, no! Predestination is not fate! Fate is blind and random. But God ordained all things according to His wisdom—for His own glory and the good of His people. Things do not happen by chance or according to the power of darkness. Everything is in the hand of God.
c. Thirdly, knowing and believing that God is sovereign and that He has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass gives us tremendous confidence regarding the future. If we know that God is in control of all things, then we can confidently obey our Saviour, who teaches us to seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness and not to worry about tomorrow (Mt 6:33-34).
d. Fourthly, knowing and believing that God is sovereign and that He has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass gives us tremendous comfort when we undergo trials. Trials and suffering do not happen by chance. They are ordained of God for our good. They are designed to cultivate our faith, never to harm us. Therefore, we can count it pure joy when we fall into divers temptations.
e. Fifthly, knowing and believing that God is sovereign and that He has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass, humbles us and shuts us up to Christ because we are made to realise that we contribute nothing to our salvation. God did not save us because He foresaw that we would be good. Instead, God appointed us unto salvation and brought us to Himself by His sovereign power. We have nothing to boast about. We can only glorify God.
f. Sixthly, knowing and believing that God is sovereign and that He has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass encourages us to pray. Why? Because we are brought to realise that in prayer, we are speaking to Him whose counsel shall stand, who is nevertheless pleased to unfold providence with our prayers factored in. We need not fear disastrous results from our prayers because God cannot be led astray.
g. Seventhly, knowing and believing that God is sovereign and that He has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass encourages us to be witnesses for Christ: for we know that those who have been appointed to salvation will be saved. And we know that if we are obedient to be witnesses for Christ, God may use us as the instruments of salvation for some of His elect. Were it not that God is sovereign, we can have no confidence that our witness has any value—because all men are dead in sin and trespasses. But since we know God has elected whom He will, let us confidently and prayerfully go forth, trusting that the Lord’s counsel shall stand.
Let us confidently and gratefully make Christ known to the world, for those who were ordained to salvation need to hear His call, and God has called us to be His witnesses. Amen.