The Bible teaches that God “works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (Eph. 1:11 NIV). This means that whatever God decrees comes to pass and whatever comes to pass God has decreed. This includes the details of creation, predestination, providence, and so forth. I like how Thomas Boston defined the properties of God’s decrees using Scripture. He said the following about God’s decrees:
- They are eternal. God makes no decrees in time, but they were all from eternity. So the decree of election is said to have been ‘before the foundation of the world,’ Eph. 1:4. …If the divine decrees were not eternal, God would not be most perfect and unchangeable, but, like weak man, should take new counsels, and would be unable to tell everything that were to come to pass.
- They are most wise: ‘According to the counsel of his will.’ God cannot properly deliberate or take counsel, as men do; for he sees all things together and at once. And thus his decrees are made with perfect judgment, and laid in the depth of wisdom, Rom. 11:33. ‘O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God I how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!’
- They are most free: ‘according to the counsel of his own will’; depending on no other, but all flowing from the mere pleasure of his own will, Rom. 11:34. ‘For who hath known the mind of the Lord, or who hath been his counselor?’ …So his decrees are all absolute, and there are none of them conditional. He has made no decrees suspended on any condition without himself.
- They are unchangeable. They are the unalterable laws of heaven. God’s decrees are constant; and he by no means alters his purpose, as men do, Ps. 33:11. ‘The counsel of the Lord standeth for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations.’ Hence they are compared to mountains of brass, Zech. 6:1. As nothing can escape his first view, so nothing can be added to his knowledge.
- They are most holy and pure. For as the sun darts its beams upon a dunghill, and yet is no way defiled by it; so God decrees the permission of sin, …yet is not the author of sin: 1 John 1:5. ‘God is light, and in him is no darkness at all,’ Jam. 1:13, 17. ‘God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man. With him is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.’
- They are effectual; that is, whatsoever God decrees comes to pass infallibly, Isa. 46:10. ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.’ He cannot fall short of what he has determined.
This is an edited summary of a larger helpful discussion on God’s decrees found in volume 1 of Boston’s Works. It’s found on pages 158-159 for those interested.