Question: What are the decrees of God?
Answer: The decrees of God are his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he has foreordained whatsoever shall come to pass.
I have already spoken something concerning the decrees of God under the attribute of his immutability. God is unchangeable in his essence, and he is unchangeable in his decrees; his counsel shall stand. He decrees the issue of all things, and carries them on to their accomplishment by his providence; I shall proceed therefore to the execution of his decrees.
The next question is,
Question: What is the work of creation?
Answer: It is God's making all things from nothing by the word of his power. 'In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth' (Gen. 1:1).
The creation is glorious to behold, and it is a pleasant and profitable study. Some think that when Isaac went abroad into the fields to meditate, it was in the book of the creatures. The creation is the heathen man's Bible, the ploughman's primer, and the traveller's perspective glass, through which he receives a representation of the infinite excellencies which are in God. The creation is a large volume, in which God's works are bound up; and this volume has three great leaves in it: heaven, earth, and sea.
The author of the creation is God, as it is in the text, 'God created.' The world was created in time, and could not be from eternity, as Aristotle thought. The world must have a maker, and could not make itself. If one should go into a far country, and see stately edifices, he would never imagine that they could build themselves, but that there had been some artificer to raise such goodly structures; so this great fabric of the world could not create itself, it must have some builder or maker, and that is God. 'In the beginning God created.' To imagine that the work of the creation was not framed by the Lord Jehovah, is as if we should conceive a curious landscape to be drawn without the hand of an artist. 'God that made the world and all things therein' (Acts 17:24).
In the work of creation there are two things to be considered: I. The making. II. The adorning.
I. The making of the world. Here consider,  God made the world without any pre-existent matter. This is the difference between generation and creation. In generation there is materia habilis et disposita [suitable material at hand], some matter to work upon; but in creation there is no pre-existent matter. God brought all this glorious fabric of the world out of the womb of nothing. Our beginning was of nothing. Some brag of their birth and ancestry; but how little cause have they to boast who came from nothing.
 God made the world with a word. When Solomon had to build a temple he needed many workmen, and they all had tools to work with, but God wrought without tools. 'By the word of the Lord were the heavens made' (Ps. 33:6). The disciples wondered that Christ could with a word calm the sea; but it was more with a word to make the sea.
 God made all things at first very good (Gen. 1:31), without any defect or deformity. The creation came out of God's hands a curious piece; it was a fair copy, without any blot, written with God's own fingers (Ps. 8:3). His work was perfect.
II. The adorning of the world. God made this great lump and mass, Rudis indigestaque moles [with neither shape nor order], and then beautified it. He divided the sea and the earth, he decked the earth with flowers, the trees with fruit; but what is beauty when it is masked over? Therefore, that we might behold this glory, God made the light. The heavens were bespangled with the sun, moon, and stars, that so the world's beauty might be beheld and admired. God, in the creation, began with things less noble and excellent, rocks and vegetables; and then the rational creatures, angels and men. Man is the most exquisite piece in the creation. He is a microcosm, or little world. Man was made with deliberation and counsel. 'Let us make man' (Gen. 1:26). It is the manner of artificers to be more than ordinarily accurate when they are about their masterpieces. Man was to be the masterpiece of this visible world, therefore God consulted about making so rare a piece. A solemn council of the sacred persons in the Trinity was called. 'Let us make man, and let us make him in our own image.' On the king's coin his own image or effigy is stamped; so God stamped his image on man, and made him partaker of many divine qualities.
I shall speak,  Of the parts of man's body. (a) The head, the most excellent architectural part, is the fountain of spirits, and the seat of reason. In nature the head is the best piece, but in grace the heart excels. (b) The eye is the beauty of the face; it shines and sparkles like a lesser sun in the body. The eye occasions much sin, and therefore may well have tears in it. (c) The ear is the conduit-pipe through which knowledge is conveyed. Better lose our seeing than our hearing, for 'faith cometh by hearing' (Rom. 10:17). To have an ear open to God is the best jewel on the ear. (d) The tongue. David calls the tongue his glory (Ps. 16:9) because it is an instrument to set forth the glory of God. The soul at first was a viol in tune to praise God, and the tongue made the music. God has given us two ears, but one tongue, to show that we should be swift to hear, but slow to speak. God has set a double fence before the tongue, the teeth, and the lips, to teach us to be wary that we offend not with our tongue. (e) The heart is a noble part, and the seat of life.
 The soul of man. This is the man of the man. Man, in regard of his soul, partakes with the angels; nay, as Plato says, the understanding, will, and conscience, are a glass that resemble the Trinity. The soul is the diamond in the ring, it is a vessel of honour; God himself is served in this vessel. It is a spark of celestial brightness, says Damascene. David admired the rare contexture and workmanship of his body. 'I am wonderfully made, I was curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth' (Ps. 139:14, 15). If the cabinet be so curiously wrought, what is the jewel? How richly is the soul embroidered! Thus you see how glorious a work the creation is, and man especially, who is the epitome of the world.
But why did God make the world?
(1) Negatively. Not for himself; for he did not need it, being infinite. He was happy in reflecting upon his own sublime excellencies and perfections before the world was. God did not make the world to be a mansion for us, since we are not to abide here for ever. Heaven is the mansion house (John 14:2). The world is only a passage-room to eternity; the world is to us as the wilderness was to Israel, not to rest in, but to travel through to the glorious Canaan. The world is a dressing-room to dress our souls in, not a place where we are to stay for ever. The apostle tells us of the world's funeral. 'The elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burnt up' (2 Peter 3:10).
(2) Positively. God made the world to demonstrate his own glory. The world is a looking glass, in which we may see the power and goodness of God shine forth. 'The heavens declare the glory of God' (Ps. 19:1). The world is like a curious piece of tapestry, in which we may see the skill and wisdom of him that made it.
Use one: Did God create this world? (1) This convinces us of the truth of his Godhead. To create is proper to a Deity (Acts 17:24). Plato was convinced of a Deity when he saw that all the world could not make a fly. Thus God proves himself to be the true God, and distinguishes himself from idols (Jer. 10:11). It is written in Chaldee, 'Thus shall ye say to them, The gods that have not made the heavens and the earth, even they shall perish.' Who but God can create? The creation is enough to convince the heathen that there is a God. There are two books out of which God will judge and condemn the heathen, viz., the book of Conscience, 'Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts' (Rom. 2:5), and the book of the Creation, 'The invisible things of him are clearly seen by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead' (Rom. 1:20). The world is full of emblems and hieroglyphics. Every star in the sky, every bird that flies in the air, is a witness against the heathen. A creature could not make itself.
(2) It is a mighty support of faith that God creates. He that made all things with a word, what cannot he do? He can create strength in weakness; he can create a supply of our wants. What a foolish question was that, 'Can he prepare a table in the wilderness' (Ps. 78:19)? Cannot he that made the world do much more? 'Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth' (Ps. 124:8). Rest on this God for help, who made heaven and earth. As the work of creation is a monument of God's power, so it is a stay to faith. Is thy heart hard? He can with a word create softness. Is it unclean? He can create purity. 'Create in me a clean heart, O God' (Ps. 51:10). Is the church of God low? He can create Jerusalem a praise (Is. 65:18). There is no such golden pillar for faith to stay upon as a creating power.
(3) Did God make this world full of beauty and glory, everything very good? Then, what an evil thing is sin, that has put out of frame the whole creation! Sin has much eclipsed the beauty, soured the sweetness, and marred the harmony of the world. How bitter is that gall, a drop whereof can embitter a whole sea! Sin has brought vanity and vexation into the world, yea, a curse. God cursed the ground for man's sake (Gen. 3). There were several fruits of the curse.
'In sorrow shalt thou eat of it' (verse 17). By sorrow is to be understood all the troubles and cares of this life. 'In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread' (verse 19). In innocence Adam tilled the ground, for he must not live idly; but it was rather a delight than a labour. That tilling was without toiling. The eating in sorrow, and the sweat of the brow, came in after sin. 'Thorns and thistles shall the ground bring forth' (verse 18). Did the earth in innocence bear thorns, though they were afterwards threatened as a punishment? It is likely it did bear thorns; for, when God had done creating, he made no new species or kinds of things; but the meaning is, Now, after sin, the earth should bring forth more plentifully of thorns, and now those thorns should be hurtful, and choke the corn, which hurtful quality was not in them before. Ever since the fall, all the comforts of this life have a thorn and a thistle in them! The fourth fruit of the curse was the driving of man out of paradise. 'So he drove out the man' (verse 24). God at first brought Adam into paradise as into a house ready furnished, or as a king into his palace. 'Have dominion over every living thing that moveth' (Gen. 1:28). God's driving Adam out of paradise signified his dethroning and banishing him, that he might look after a heavenly and a better paradise. A fifth fruit of the curse was death. 'To dust thou shalt return' (verse 19). Death was not natural to Adam, but came in after sin. Josephus is of opinion that man would have died, though he would have had a longer term of years added to his life; but, out of question, death grew out of the root of sin, as the apostle says. 'By sin came death' (Rom. 5:12). See then how cursed a thing sin is, that has brought so many curses upon the creation. If we will not hate sin for its deformity, let us hate it for the curse it brings.
(4) Did God make this glorious world? Did he make everything good? Was there in the creature so much beauty and sweetness? Oh! then what sweetness is there in God? Quicquid efficit tale, illud est niagis tale; 'the cause is always more noble than the effect.' Think with yourselves, is there so much excellence in house and lands? Then how much more is there in God, that made them! Is there beauty in a rose? What beauty then is there in Christ, the Rose of Sharon! Does oil make the face shine (Ps. 104:15)? How will the light of God's countenance make it shine! Does wine cheer the heart? Oh! what virtue is there in the true vine! How does the blood of this grape cheer the heart! Is the fruit of the garden sweet? How delicious are the fruits of the Spirit! Is a gold mine so precious? How precious is he who founded this mine! What is Christ, in whom are hid all treasures (Col. 2:3)? We should ascend from the creature to the Creator. If there be any comfort below, how much more is there in God, who made all these things! How unreasonable is it that we should delight in the world, and not much more in him that made it! How should our hearts be set on God, and how should we long to be with God, who has infinitely more sweetness in him than any creature!
Use two: Of exhortation. (1) Did God create the world? Let us wisely observe the works of creation. God has given us not only the book of the Scriptures to read in, but the book of the creation. Look up to the heavens, for they show much of God's glory. The sun gilds the world with its bright beams. Behold the stars, their regular motion in their orbs, their magnitude, their light and their influence. We may see God's glory blazing in the sun and twinkling in the stars. Look into the sea, and see the wonders of God in the deep (Ps. 107:24). Look into the air, there the birds make melody, and sing forth the praises of their Creator. Look into the earth, there we may wonder at the nature of minerals, the power of the loadstone, the virtue of herbs. See the earth decked as a bride with flowers. All these are the glorious effects of God's power. God has wrought the creation as with curious needlework, that we may observe his wisdom and goodness, and give him the praise due to him. 'O Lord, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all' (Ps. 104:24).
(2) Did God create all things? Let us obey our Maker. We are his jure creationis [ by right of creation], we owe ourselves to him. If another gives us our maintenance we think ourselves bound to serve him; much more should we serve and obey God who gives us our life. 'In him we live and move' (Acts 17:28). God has made everything for man's service; the corn for nourishment, the beasts for usefulness, the birds for music, that man should be for God's service. The rivers come from the sea, and they run into the sea again. All we have is from God. Let us honour our Creator, and live to him that made us.
(3) Did God make our bodies out of the dust, and that dust out of nothing? Let this keep down pride. When God would humble Adam he uses this expression, 'Out of the dust wast thou taken' (Gen. 3:19). Why art thou proud, O dust and ashes? Thou art made but of coarse metal. Cum sis humillimus, cur non humillimus? [Since you are humble, why do you not walk humbly?] Bernard. David says, 'I was curiously wrought' (Ps. 139:15). Thy being curiously wrought, may make thee thankful; but being made of the dust, may keep thee humble. If thou hast beauty, it is but well-coloured earth. Thy body is but air and dust mingled together, and this dust will drop into the dust. When the Lord had said of the judges, they were gods (Ps. 82:6), lest they should grow proud he told them they were dying gods. 'Ye shall die like men' (verse 7).
(4) Did God create our souls after his image, but we lost it? Let us never rest till we are restored to God's image again. We have now got the devil's image in pride, malice, and envy. Let us get God's image restored, which consists in knowledge and righteousness (Col. 3:10; Eph. 4:24). Grace is our best beauty, it makes us like God and angels. As the sun is to the world, so is holiness to the soul. Let us go to God to repair his image in us. Lord! thou hast once made me, make me anew; sin has defaced thy image in me, oh draw it again by the pencil of the Holy Ghost.