Summary: This article was written and published April 2016. God’s eternal counsels reference the endpoint to which God is bringing all things. God is determining the outcomes, and so He is sovereign (He is the decision maker); God is doing the work to bring about the outcomes, and so He is sovereign (He works alone); the outcomes will last forever (they are eternal). Read the article and see the scriptural support for these thoughts, and discover why God’s counsels are so important for the Christian to understand.
“Moreover, the mind which is deeply affected with the sense of the divine predeterminations will always have the profoundest reverence for God, as well as the most steady dependence on Him.” (Philip Melanchthon)
As Christians we should be wholly committed to the truth of scripture. I also believe, as a general biblical principle and the grand overall scope of things, that the glory of God will be the final outcome and end result of all things. What should this mean to us? That God has His own eternal counsels – that is, He has a plan by which He works to the endpoint of ultimately glorifying Himself. I might add that this plan never has changed, never will change, never can change. Why? Well, other than the fact that His counsels are eternal, and this gives us the impression that they will not change simply based on the word chosen by the Holy Spirit to describe God’s purposes (Eph. 3:11), but also we should know that God is a sovereign God, and that He must be sovereign in/over His own counsels (Eph. 1:11).
This, I believe, is biblical thinking, as I could give you plenty more scripture to impress upon you these principles, such as Isa. 55:11 – here God says, My word will accomplish what I please. Does this speak of the sovereignty of God, if His word only accomplishes what He pleases? I think you would agree with me in this, that this is a sound biblical understanding, and if we are referring to the eternal counsels of God, then we are discussing the “big and grand picture” of things, as big a picture as is available for any human to look at and comprehend. But I point out how God’s sovereignty is connected with this, how it has to be, that He has to be sovereign in His own counsels.
Now I will always contend that this grand picture of God’s eternal counsels and purposes must be under His control alone, intimately related to His sovereignty. Does this exclude human sovereignty being involved in His counsels? Does it exclude human work from being part of His counsels? Does it exclude human will from His counsels? I believe scripture gives us the answer to all these questions.
It is not that man is not sovereign as to the color of socks he puts on in the morning, or whether he puts on any socks at all; man continues to make decisions, and many important ones at that. I suppose you could say man is sovereign in some things, and that he seems to exercise a free will, a simple choice in many things. But here is the difference I see, and I believe this is biblical, scriptural –nothing that man has any involvement with is ever eternal. Man’s involvement, his choice of will, his sovereignty, is only ever about temporal things, and never are they involved in God’s counsels, or never can they determine God’s counsels. Only God determines what His purposes are, and His sovereignty means that He works all things according to the counsel of His will, not man’s (Eph. 1:11). God is in sovereign control of anything that will last forever. In temporal things man has many choices to make. I suppose I should say for clarity that the only eternal things which exist or will exist are, in fact, God’s counsels and purposes. These eternal things represent God’s workmanship in His grace (Eph. 2:10), accomplished according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace (Eph. 1:5-6). Eternal things are only the result of God’s own work without human hands – this is true in the case of the destruction of the Gentile statue of civil world powers (Dan. 2:34, 45), as is true of Christ’s resurrection (Mark 14:58), as is true of the believer’s redemption in Christ (Col. 2:11), and also true of our eventual glorified bodies (II Cor. 5:1). All speak of God’s workmanship without human help or will, without human hands (see also the heavenly tabernacle – Heb. 9:11).
It is the believer’s privilege to know and comprehend God’s counsels (Eph. 1:9, John 15:15). If there is a tightly knit system to be found in God’s word, then whatever God’s own counsels amount to has to be this system. God’s eternal counsels is the only plan worth knowing. I hope you would agree with me in this. What I want to understand is God’s counsels, God’s plan. There is only one plan, right?
Unfortunately, if we allow Arminianism (man’s will and decision-making as in itself always sovereign), then man’s will plays sovereign with eternal things, and you end up with an infinite number of plans, ever changing as we go. I feel this isn’t God at all, nor scriptural, nor eternal in essence or character. As to a little more detailed description of how I view things, always attempting to see things biblically and scripturally, but seeing the big picture that principles understood may paint for us, I see both Judaizing and Arminianism as one and the same at their source – both are the leaven of humanism, where man is the center and where self and flesh play a great role. Actually the religion of Judaism is the same principle of humanism – “Do this and live” is its founding tenet (Rom. 10:5). So God gives this religion to the Jews, yet its mode of operation is the principle of human responsibility. What is involved in this form of humanism? – human works, human accomplishment, human will, and a human righteousness of your own (Phil 3:9). It is the founding principle of the law, the religion of Judaism. There are more thoughts here, but the character of the law I have discussed already in many previous articles. I refer you to them.
So this is how I view the sovereignty of God – starting with the big picture of God’s eternal counsels and how His sovereignty must be related to these things, eternal things. I do not start with the topic of my own salvation to understand the sovereignty of God. My salvation is not the scope and entirety of God’s counsels. I hope you understand what I’m saying. However, my personal justification in Christ is an eternal thing – it is eternal life given to me by God, a redemption freely given scripture tells us (Rom. 3:24), based on His perfect and eternal sacrifice, which is never to be repeated – one can see the perpetuity of these things. Do the hands of man have anything to do with a justification freely given by God? I leave this for your own conclusions (but remember Col. 2:11).
But the Calvinism vs. Arminianism discussion mainly focuses on just the salvation of man as different teachers discuss or argue it. I see this as a narrowed focus. Our salvation is a most important bible subject, but it does not have the extent of scope that the counsels of God has. Still, the question boils down to this – is my personal salvation part and parcel of the eternal plan of God? The epistle to the Ephesians, I believe, makes this perfectly clear.
Ephesians 1:3-14 (NKJV)
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.
In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory.
In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.”
I see the sovereignty of God in His entire eternal plan. Calvinism is but a small focus on a part of this plan. Arminianism however, is a humanistic leaven that perverts the understanding of God’s sovereign grace involved in individual salvation. But more than what most people focus on (just personal salvation), I feel strongly that the different forms of religious humanism — Arminianism, or the judaizing of Christianity to greater or less degrees, subtle or not so subtle efforts to do so, or Judaism itself, as a practiced religion to gain favor and blessings from God — are different leavens used by Satan to pervert the understanding of the counsels of God, especially in comprehending God’s sovereignty involved in determining the destinies of all eternal things.
But Judaism was a religion sanctioned by God Himself. It was the worship of Jehovah, the one true God as He was then revealed to the Jews (Deut. 6:1-5). And didn’t Paul say, “Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.” All this is true, and I believe it wholeheartedly. So how do I now describe Judaism as an evil humanistic leaven? The answer can be found in understanding the reason why Paul also characterizes the law as a ministration of death and condemnation (2 Cor. 3:7, 9). One place he says it is holy, just, and good; in another place he says it is death and condemnation. What gives? We must comprehend the difference between the law in itself, and the purpose for God giving the law to fallen man (the Jews).
Here is a brief history and explanation. The purpose for giving the law was not spelled out by God for the Jews to understand at Mt. Sinai. There it was a covenant to be kept, a religion to be practiced, a law by which God would govern. But hopefully you can see this next point – obedience to the law by the Jews would now be the requirement for bringing to them the blessings God had promised in an earlier covenant made to Abraham. Only the previous covenant promised to the forefathers had a markedly different founding principle. The Abrahamic covenant was based on God’s sovereignty in choice and grace, irrevocable in its nature, and dependent only on the faithfulness of God to eventually keep the promises He made. However, at Mt. Sinai the Jews make the promise to obey the law in order to receive the blessings (Ex. 19:3-8). When Israel willfully made this decision, the law, and for that matter the religion of Judaism, became the means by which they were to receive God’s blessings. Now we must understand that the founding principle of the law is not the sovereign grace and faithfulness of God, but rather the principle of human responsibility (Rom. 10:5, Gal. 3:12) – “Do this and live, or “the man who does those things shall live by them.” The promised blessings were now dependent on Israel’s corporate obedience to commandments rather than the simple matter of God’s faithfulness.
This is why it is so important to understand the events that took place with Moses and Israel at Mt. Sinai, Moses going up the mountain two separate times with two different sets of stone tablets, and the tenor of the two conversations he has with God. The first time he goes up it is to receive the commandments of the law. The second time he goes up it is to intercede for Israel’s survival, they having already broken the law in its first commandment. The first time up Moses receives a covenant of pure law. The second time Moses goes up, God must move away from pure law and fall back into His sovereignty in order to spare the nation from His destroying them (Ex. 33:19, Rom. 9:15-16). So what was Paul’s explanation? “So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.” Human will and human accomplishment, the man who does those things in order to live, was proven a disastrous agreement for Israel from its very beginning. The consequence was God showing mercy as He chose, having to fall back into His sovereignty, which ensured the continued existence of Israel as a nation. And if we look closely and have a spiritual mind taught by the Spirit of God, we should easily see how the sovereignty of God is so necessary in order for Israel to eventually have all that God promised them through their forefathers – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. As far as God’s eternal counsels for Israel go, His sovereignty and faithfulness is absolutely essential. And this will be to the praise of His own glory.
What do I mean by saying that the real purpose of the law given by God was not revealed to Israel? Well, ask yourself, who is it that finally reveals the true purpose for God giving the law? It was Paul. The revelation by the Spirit of God of what the law really was, of what God’s purpose in it was, comes through Paul. And important to understand is that this revelation from God comes not when he is Saul, of the “stock of Israel,” a Hebrew of Hebrews, and concerning the law a Pharisee – all the proper confidences of the human flesh (Phil. 3:3-6). It does not come to him when he was a Pharisee and knew Judaism inside and out, and was a doctor of the law. No! The revelation comes after his conversion from Judaism to Christianity. It had to wait until he stopped being a Jew and became a Christian. It had to wait until he was sealed with the Holy Spirit as a son of God (Eph. 1:13, Rom. 8:14-16, Gal. 3:26-28; 4:5-7). It waited until he was the minister of the church, apostle of the Gentiles, and given stewardship of the mystery of God (Col. 1:24-27, Eph. 3:1-11). And what did he then reveal from the Spirit of God? That Judaism was a ministration of death and condemnation (II Cor. 3). That the law was not of faith (Gal. 3:12). That it was added because of transgressions (Gal. 3:19). That when the law entered, sin grew in strength and got worse (Rom. 5:20; 7:5). The law was the strength of sin (I Cor. 15:56). That the law actually had no power or resource to give life (Gal. 3:21, Rom. 7:10), but only brought a curse with it to all those participating in it (Gal. 3:10).
This reveals the true purpose of the law given to Israel. God used it as a means of testing and proving Israel. They served as the sample group of man in Adam and man in the flesh. They were the test-case representing all mankind. The law turns out to be one of the three ways God tested man in Adam, proving his utter depravity (Rom. 3:9-19). Israel was privileged by God above all the Gentile nations (Rom. 3:1-2). This made them a most suitable test-case. They failed in their responsibility at the very beginning. Israel actually never had a covenant of pure law, the first tablets were broken at the foot of the mountain, never making it into the camp. God retreated into His sovereignty in order to preserve the physical line of descent from Abraham (Rom. 9:1-16). These are important principles to understand.
If you would closely examine the first three chapters of the epistle to the Ephesians, one can’t help but see the purpose of God’s eternal counsels for the believer/church brought out so beautifully in them. Look at every passage, every single verse of the three chapters – it only speaks of the work that God has done or will do. The work that God does in grace, all of it together, are the eternal counsels of God. These are the things that will last, that will remain.
· Eph. 1:3-8 God’s counsels for the individual believer (Christian)
· Eph. 1:9-10 God’s counsels center on the glory of God on Jesus Christ made head of all things, in heaven and earth
· Eph. 1:11-18 God’s calling and His inheritance for the believer in Christ
· Eph. 1:19-23 God’s counsels for the church, the body of Christ, the body of the Man God raised from the dead
· Eph. 2:1-10 God’s intended purpose (counsels) in the individual redemption of the believer
· Eph 2:11-22 God’s counsels concerning His building of the church, the body, the household or temple of God
· Eph. 3:1-11 God’s hidden mystery, the church – hidden from the prophets and prophecy, now revealed by the Holy Spirit sent down
· Eph. 3:12-21 Our present privilege and blessing in Christ, to the eternal glory of God.
Jesus Christ is the center piece of all God’s counsels (Eph. 1:10). But the believer is “in Christ,” and so, the believer/church is in a significant place in these counsels by the choice of God. God has purposed our place to be “in heavenly places” (Eph. 1:3; 2:6). This should be apparent concerning the church as the body of Christ, the risen Man, when we read the end of the first chapter (Eph. 1:19-23). The church is in union with Christ its Head at the right hand of God. We are destined to sit in heavenly places in Christ Jesus, the church’s privileged place in the government of God over the millennial earth. This all is God’s work in His sovereign choice of the believer/church in Christ before the foundations of the world (Eph. 1:4).
I also notice that the place in Christ that God has given to the believer/church is so much better and higher and more blessed than that of Israel. There isn’t really much mention of Israel in these chapters. Israel will have a place on the earth. But this is not a place in Christ in the heavens. The Jews will enjoy physical blessings and prosperity, all earthly and temporal things. But the believer/church is blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ (Eph. 1:3). On the earth Israel becomes the inheritance of Jehovah. But the believer/church shares with Christ as co-heir all that He inherits. This is quite a difference. You become the inheritance of God, or you obtain an inheritance from God (Eph. 1:11). Some theologians teach that the believer’s/church’s place is to enjoy the scraps of blessing which fall from the table set by God for Israel (Matt. 15:24-27). But does the first three chapters of Ephesians sound like that teaching is remotely true?