How Does God Execute His Decrees? (WSC Q. 8)

FPCNorwayAll Life for God's Glory, Lessons

When you take the time to stop and look, you discover that the world is overflowing with wonder. Consider the majesty of a million starlings swooping in perfect formation across the sky. Meditate on the complexity of a rose peddle. Marvel at the wing speed of a hummingbird and the glide of a cheetah. Kayak in the heart of the sea, and consider the breadth of the ocean. Ponder the unimaginable abundance of life beneath your craft. Fathom the depths of the sea. Lift your eyes to the heavens and behold the Milky Way and the mysterious dance of the Northern Lights. Exclaim with the Psalmist, “The heavens declare the glory of God and sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Ps. 19:1). The glory of God fills every corner of the galaxy because he creates and sustains it all. Therefore, let’s give God his due in the praise of his majestic, creative glory.

How Does God Execute His Decrees?

All Life for God’s Glory: A Study of the Westminster Shorter Catechism—Question 8
Rev. Matthew J. Stanghelle
April 26, 2020

Of Protons and Galaxies

From protons to galaxies, God is the Creator and the Sustainer of everything visible and invisible. He forms, and he governs according to the word of his power. The erupting volcano, the quaking earth, and the rolling thunder all come to pass by the decree of God. Consider the lilies of the field and the blossom of the trees. God works all things according to the counsel of his will. When the snow falls to the ground, when the rain quenches the earth, when the lion roars, and the lamb leaps for joy—this all comes by the hand of God. In the same way, man rises, and man falls according to the will of the Lord.

We saw in question 7 of our study of the Westminster Shorter Catechism that God has planned everything according to the counsel of his will. There we learned that “the decrees of God are his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass” (WSC Q. 7). The history of this earth and the story of man all unfold according to God’s counsel. Paul reminds us in Ephesians 1:11 that God “works all things according to the counsel of his will.” Moreover, the Lord foreordains whatsoever comes to pass for his own glory. Now, this leads us to some thorny questions, so I would encourage you to go back and read that lesson on the webpage if you were not with us last time.[1] As we study question 8 tonight, we turn to the fleshing out of God’s eternal decrees in real-time and space.

Q.8. How doth God execute his decrees?        
A. God executeth his decrees in the works of creation and providence.           

—Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 8

Question 8 gives us two buckets for understanding the work of God. Now, these are huge buckets. The first bucket is God’s work of creation, and the second bucket is God’s works of providence. This question serves as an organization statement for the remainder of the first part of the Catechism—What man is to believe concerning God (WSC Q. 4-38). Questions 9-10 cover God’s work of creation, and questions 11-38 include God’s works of providence. Tonight we will gain a grand overview of all that will follow in the weeks ahead.

1. God Executes His Decrees in the Work of Creation

When you take the time to stop and look, you discover that the world is overflowing with wonder. Consider the majesty of a million starlings swooping in perfect formation across the sky. Meditate on the complexity of a rose peddle. Marvel at the wing speed of a hummingbird and the glide of a cheetah. Kayak in the heart of the sea, and consider the breadth of the ocean. Ponder the unimaginable abundance of life beneath your craft. Fathom the depths of the sea. Lift your eyes to the heavens and behold the Milky Way and the mysterious dance of the Northern Lights. Exclaim with the Psalmist, “The heavens declare the glory of God and sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Ps. 19:1). The glory of God fills every corner of the galaxy because he creates and sustains it all. Therefore, let’s give God his due in the praise of his majestic, creative glory.

The majesty of creation reveals God’s inaugural work in the execution of his decrees. The Catechism teaches that God executes his decrees in the work of creation. Now, the Bible teaches two essential aspects of creation. First, the Bible teaches that God is the Creator. Isaiah exclaims, “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth” (Isa. 40:28). The prophet rightly points us to the source of all the riches and glories of this bountiful planet—God is the Creator of it all. His creation transcends all boundaries and borders. God is the Creator in Beijing, and he is the Creator in Moscow. He is the Creator in London and New York City. He is the Creator everywhere. The majestic peaks of the Rockies and the snowcapped Alps are all the work of his hands. The haunting coastland of Patagonia and Norway’s stunning fjordland all bear witness to the creative power of God. And it is the folly of man to forget this.

One of the great ironies in the history of rational man is the staunch atheism that fills some of the most beautiful places in the world. Theses outdoor capitals should be epicenters of worship to the God of heaven and earth. Ironically, they have become temples of delusion and self-worship. Romans 1 echoes this sad reality when it says of such people that they “exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen” (Rom. 1:25). If you look upon the wonders of creation and come to the conclusion that the universe is a happy accident, you are living a pitiful delusion. The Word declares that the heavens and earth are the work of God’s hands.

Second, the Bible teaches that God’s creation exists for his glory. The Bible teaches that creation declares the glory of God (Ps. 19:1). What makes the glories of the heavens and the mindboggling complexities of this planet so memorizing is that they reflect God’s immeasurable glory. These reflections of glory should cause us to worship him. The heavens and earth exist to move us to worship our Creator. So let the grandeur of creation be your worship leader. When you behold the splendor of the earth, give all glory to your Creator. Say with Paul, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:33-36). Anticipate the angelic song in Revelation by declaring, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (Rev. 4:11). The Lord made the starry hosts in heaven and the teaming life on earth to bring him praise.

By way of application, I want to encourage you to enjoy God’s creation. Make eating the rich bounty of food that he provides an act of worship. When you drink clean water, give him thanks for the life and satisfaction that it brings. Explore the earth. Hike in the mountains. Go outside and behold the glory of your God. It is so sad that Christians often accept the Gnostic lie by treating the earth and their bodies like a garbage bin. The Gnostics taught that spirit is good, and that matter is evil. This kind of philosophy leads to the view that the earth is the garbage bin of the universe and that the goal is to shed it as quickly as possible. I’m afraid that we adopt that same attitude when we neglect this good earth and the bodies that God Almighty has given to us by his eternal decree. Let us grow as stewards of these great gifts as an act of worship to our Creator God. The Lord plans and sustains the majesty of creation by his eternal decree. Let’s not bring contempt on his wisdom by slighting that which he designed to bring him praise.

2. God Executes His Decrees in the Works of Providence

We now turn to the second means whereby God executes his eternal decrees. The Catechism states that God executes his decrees by the works of providence. We will explore the vast nature of the doctrine of providence in questions 11-38. Here we will gain a broad overview. The Bible teaches that God works all things according to the counsel of his will (Eph. 1:11). God sends forth his word, and it accomplishes all that he purposes by it (Isa. 55:11). The Psalmist declares, “Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and mist, stormy wind fulfilling his word” (Ps. 148:7-8). Daniel tells us that God is the one who removes kings and sets up kings (Dan. 2:20). Isaiah speaks to the providential power of God when he says in chapter 40,

Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in; who brings princes to nothing, and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness. Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows on them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble. To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name; by the greatness of his might and because he is strong in power, not one is missing.     

—Isaiah 40:21-26

Let’s consider three aspects of God’s providence. First, the Bible teaches that God exercises the power of his providence over all the affairs of men. Nebuchadnezzar himself declares in Daniel 4:34-35, “His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’” The forces set against the Lord and his people have no power that God does not permit. We see this most clearly in the mystery of the cross. God planned this by decree before the heavens began, and he appointed wicked men to crucify the Son. Recall the prayer of the saints in Acts 4, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’— for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:24-28). God’s providence extends to all the affairs of men. As Jesus warned Pilot, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11).

Second, the Bible teaches that God exercises the power of his providence over nature. Consider some of the sweeping Creation psalms such as Psalm 104, “O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. Here is the sea, great and wide, which teems with creatures innumerable, living things both small and great. There go the ships, and Leviathan, which you formed to play in it. These all look to you, to give them their food in due season. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground” (Ps. 104:24-30). The cycle of life and death unfolds according to the providence of God. When the earth thrives and flourishes, it is because God has ordained it. When it withers in famine and drought, the Lord is the one who has done it. The number of our days and the degree of our flourishing are in God’s hands. One of the great signs of judgment was the withholding of rain from the land (cf. Amos 4:7). The abundant crop and the blighted harvest come by the decree of God, which he works out through his acts of providence.

Third, the Bible teaches that God exercises the power of his providence over all things that we would seek him. Like a nursing calf, we need to know our mother who feeds us. After this manner, the Bible teaches us about God’s providential governance that we would seek him in worship, and for our daily needs. Paul used this very point as his apologetic in Athens. He says to the crowd in Acts 17, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him” (Acts 17:22-27). God has created us with an inborn sense that we are dependent on a higher power. Sadly, that sense has been darkened by the fall. Nevertheless, that sense is still there enough that Paul can boldly use it as an apologetic to a very skeptical Athenian crowd. 

Therefore, we have seen how this doctrine is a call to worship and repentance. God’s work of creation should cause us to bring him all glory in the enjoyment and gratitude that this earth brings. And the acknowledgment that God governs all the affairs of men and nature should cause us to seek him in repentance and faith. To that end, I close with Paul’s appeal to the men of Athens and plead with you to heed his call, “Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:29-31). Beloved, this great act of providence—the raising of Jesus from the dead, is the doorway to life in the present world and, all the more, in the new creation to come. The coming weeks will flesh out this aspect of providence. Until then, may the works of creation and providence draw your hearts and minds to lives of worship and repentant faith. To our Creator and Sustainer God, be all the glory. Amen.


[1] https://fpcnorway.org/2020/04/12/what-are-the-decrees-of-god-wsc-q-7/