WCF 3.2 — Pastoral Comments

Posted on May 20, 2018 by admin

3.2  Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions,1 yet hath He not decreed any thing because He foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions.2

1 Acts 15:18; 1 Sam 23:11–12; Mt 11:21, 23; 2 Rom 9:11, 13, 16, 18.

In the early 16th century, at the beginning of the Great Protestant Reformation, there were two theological giants who contended that the Roman Catholic Church was seriously in error. One of them was, of course, Martin Luther. The other was Desiderius Erasmas. Erasmas was the man who produced the initial versions of the Textus Receptus (the standard Greek New Testament from which the KJV was translated). 

Luther was very keen to have Erasmas join forces with him. However, when they met to discuss how they could work together, it became very clear that they were theologically poles apart. Erasmas was a Semi-Pelagian. He believed that when the Scripture speaks about predestination, it simply means that God foreknew who would be saved according to all that He foresaw of the choices that all men would make. In other words, God decreed everything only in the sense that He foresaw everything that would come to pass down the corridor of time. Luther disagreed. He insisted that God foresaw because He decreed everything, including the choices of man and all supposed conditions along the way. Luther’s famous book, The Bondage of the Will, was essentially a defense of his position. The current paragraph of our Confession is really a succinct summary of the same doctrine.

We must insist with Luther, that God’s decree is not at any point dependant on His foresight of what would happen. It may, in fact, be said that God knows all things future because He decreed whatsoever comes to pass, or that God is omniscient because He is absolutely sovereign. The Scripture plainly teaches that, “Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world” (Acts 15:18), because He “worketh all things after the counsel of his own will” (Eph 1:11).

Bearing this in mind, we see that the decree of God will definitely come to pass in all its details and it is, in no aspect, conditional. In other words, whatever comes to pass is not merely one of multiple possible outcomes that depend on some intervening conditions. Every step of the way is ordained of God. It is true that some aspects of God’s decree have an appearance of coming to pass only upon certain conditions. For example, God revealed to Paul that He would save him and his companions on the ship to Rome, but only on condition that the sailors remained in the ship (Acts 27:24, 31). This gives the appearance that God’s plan could be frustrated by the sailors. But the reality is that God has not only decreed that all in the ship would be saved, but that the sailors would be prevented from fleeing. This ‘intermediate decree’ was not made known to the centurion and the sailors, at least not as a plan of God, but as the command of God, so that they were held responsible for their actions.

This is how we must understand our duty to pray: God has decreed to provide for our needs, but He also decreed that these needs be sought through prayer. So while prayer does not really change God’s mind, we are encouraged to pray as a revealed duty, for God has ordained that He would provide our needs in answer to our prayers.


Westminster Confession of Faith — With Brief Pastoral Comments
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