Studying the Confession: The Doctrine of Decree

If there is one doctrine for which Calvinism or Reformed theology is best known, it is election or predestination. That is what this chapter of the WCF is all about. It is included in the confession because, quite frankly, God has included teaching about the eternal decree in his Word.

 

One of the landmark documents of the Westminster Assembly of Divines (1643-1653) is the Confession of Faith. This confession was created to provide a doctrinal basis for unity across the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland. Although in God’s inscrutable providence the confession did not ultimately achieve this status, at least not permanently, it has become the gold standard for churches within the Presbyterian circle and is widely respected beyond those Reformed denominations that hold to the Westminster Standards.

The confession serves to give substance to one’s profession of trust in the Bible as God’s Word. It is absolutely essential that we recognize the Scriptures for what they are: the infallible, inerrant, incomparable Word of the living Triune God. But it is equally essential that we understand the content of that same Word. The Westminster Confession of Faith provides what is arguably the best, most biblical articulation of the Christian faith. The confession is comprised of thirty-three chapters which provide memorable summaries of the whole of Scriptural teaching on the selected topics. These topics or themes are interrelated to one another. This is the nature of systematic theology or dogmatics. While the confession is not a systematic theology in the fullest sense of that expression, it is certainly systematic or organized.

In this post we want to look at the third chapter on the eternal decree. If there is one doctrine for which Calvinism or Reformed theology is best known, it is election or predestination. That is what this chapter of the WCF is all about. It is included in the confession because, quite frankly, God has included teaching about the eternal decree in his Word. In fact, as we look at the eight brief paragraphs of this chapter we will discover that we will find biblical expressions, turns of phrase, and clear-cut citations throughout.

WCF 3.1 begins by reminding us that God has brought about his will in all things while at the same time upholding the integrity and properly understood freedom of his creatures. Right here in the beginning we discover the language of the apostle Paul in Ephesians 1:3-10. In WCF 3.2 the divines reject the idea advocated by Arminians that God has chosen the elect based upon a foreseen act of faith or more specifically, the divines reject that God has chosen his elect based upon them acting in certain ways under certain conditions. This kind of language was used by the Roman Catholic theologian Luis de Molina in his advocacy of so-called divine middle knowledge. On the contrary, the elect have exercised faith in time because the Father had chosen them in Christ from before the foundation of the world.

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