“Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?” (Matthew 20:15)
With those words, the Son of God plainly declares the glorious fact of God’s absolute sovereignty over all things. No attribute of our great God is more comforting and delightful to his children than that of divine sovereignty. No doctrine in the Bible is more important, or more blessed. Under the most adverse circumstances, in the most severe troubles, when carrying our heaviest burdens, we believe and are sure that God has sovereignly ordained our trials, that he sovereignly controls them, and that he will sovereignly sanctify them to our souls. There is no doctrine in the Bible more basic to our faith, more fundamental, or more absolutely asserted than the doctrine of divine sovereignty. It is essential to the very character of God.
To declare that God is sovereign is simply to declare that he is God. It is no less criminal or blasphemous to deny God’s holiness, justice, omnipotence, or truth, or even his very Being, than it is to deny his sovereignty. Those who deny that God is sovereign declare that God is, in reality, irrelevant!
Divine sovereignty is not merely a point of logic, or an old, out of date religious system dug out of the books of old reformers, puritans, and theologians. We believe what we do because we believe God. Our doctrine is based upon and arises from the plain statements of Holy Scripture. If you have a Bible and can read, you will have no difficulty at all in seeing that Holy Scripture universally declares God’s sovereignty (Ps. 115:3; 135:6; Isa. 14:24-27; 40:13-25; 45:7; 46:10; Dan. 4:35-37; Rom. 9:11-23; 11:33-36). God is sovereign in creation, in providence, and in grace. He is sovereign over men and angels, good and bad. He is sovereign in heaven, earth, and hell.
I do not particularly care for the name, but all who believe the Scriptures believe what men have nicknamed “Calvinism,” because those five grand, old gospel truths commonly called “Calvinism” are written out plainly in the word of God. — Total Depravity (Jer. 17:9; Rom. ; Eph. 2:1-4) — Unconditional Election (John ; Rom. -13) — Limited Atonement (Isa. 53:8) — Irresistible Grace (Ps. 110:3) — Perseverance of the Saints (John ). Those delightful, soul cheering gospel truths cannot be gainsaid. Let religious rebels hoot and holler all they may. These things are written out in simple English in the Word of God for all to read. Let men read any translation of the Bible they may. No translation can be found that does not plainly assert these things. They are so thoroughly interwoven into the whole of Divine Revelation that even the most determined efforts of unbelieving religionists cannot extricate them from the Book of God. We insist upon them with dogmatic tenacity, because they are written plainly in the Scriptures, because our God has pinned his glory to them, and because they are vital to the gospel. “Salvation is of the Lord” (Jonah 2:9). That is the language of the Bible. He planned it. He purchased it. He performs it. He preserves it. He perfects it. And he shall have the praise of it. As I just stated, he has pinned his glory to it (Eph. 1:3-14).
All Things His
“Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own?” All things belong to God our Savior. It is his sovereign right to do what he will with them. It is his right, as he will, to give them all to all, to give them all to some, to give some things to some and other things to others, or give them to none. Consider God’s gifts to men in five categories. As you do, you will see, both from Scripture and experience, that God gives his gifts to men as he will.
1. All temporal blessings are the gifts of God sovereignly bestowed upon men as he sees fit. All personal traits and abilities, mental powers, and earthly conditions are distributed among the sons and daughters of Adam according to God’s will alone (1 Cor. 4:7; 1 Sam. 2:6-9).
2. All the gifts of God’s saving grace are bestowed upon sinners in this world according to his sovereign, eternal purpose (Matt. -25; Rom. -30; Heb. ).
The illustrations of God’s sovereignty in the gifts of
his grace are bountifully strewn across the pages of Holy Scripture. He chose
some angels, and passed by others. He chose
The sovereign will of God alone
Creates us heirs of grace,
Born in the image of His Son,
A new-created race!
3. In his own family, the church, God sovereignly bestows his gifts upon his children as he will (1 Cor. ; Eph. 4:7).
Some believers have greater knowledge and deeper
experience than others. Some are gifted to serve as deacons, while others are
not. Some have gifts of ministry in one area, and others in another. Some
have many gifts. Some have few. Some are gifted to preach the gospel; others
are not. Even among preachers, the gifts vary. Some are eloquent. Some are
analytical. Some are passionate. Some are quite cool. Some are brilliant.
Some are not so brilliant. But all are gifted for the work to which God has
ordained them, according to his infinite wisdom, goodness, and purpose. That
means that there is no place in the church and
4. I cannot fail to also assert that all gifts of usefulness in this world are sovereignly dispensed to us as individuals and as local churches by God. Yes, God honors those who honor him. Yes, he blesses faithfulness. But our usefulness in his hands is not determined by us. It is his sovereign gift.
5. And gifts of spiritual comfort are distributed among God’s saints according to his sovereign will. Some enjoy great assurance, and some do not. Some, who struggle with assurance all their life long, have its blessedness in the end. And some who have had assurance all their lives have none in the end.
"Whatsoever the Lord pleased, that did he in heaven, and in earth, in the seas, and all deep places" (Ps. 135:6). With those words the Psalmist David both declares God’s absolute, universal sovereignty and calls upon us to trust, worship, and praise him because he is the sovereign God of the universe. The very foundation of our confidence and faith in our God is his sovereignty. Were he not sovereign, absolutely, universally sovereign, we could not trust him implicitly, believe his promises, or depend upon him to fulfill his Word. Only an absolute sovereign can be trusted absolutely. We can and should trust our God implicitly because he is sovereign. Nothing is more delightful to the hearts of God’s children than the fact of his great and glorious sovereignty. Under the most adverse circumstances, in the most severe troubles, and when enduring the most heavy trials, we rejoice to know that our God has sovereignly ordained our afflictions, that he sovereignly overrules them, and that he sovereignly sanctifies them to our good and his own glory.
A Matter of Great Joy
We rejoice to hear our Savior say, “Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own?” We rejoice to know that “our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased” (Ps. 115:3). Yet, in this day of religious darkness and confusion there is no truth of Holy Scripture for which we must more earnestly contend than God’s dominion over all creation, his sovereignty over all the works of his hands, the supremacy of his throne and his right to sit upon it. We rejoice in God’s sovereignty. Yet, there is nothing revealed in the Bible that is more despised by worldlings and self-righteous religionists.
Natural, unregenerate, unbelieving men and women are happy enough to have God everywhere, except upon the throne of total, universal sovereignty. They are happy to have God in his workshop, creating the world and naming the stars. They are glad to have God in the hospital to heal the sick. They are pleased to have God in trouble to calm the raging seas of life. And they are delighted to have God in the funeral parlor to ease them of pain and sorrow. But God upon his throne is, to the unregenerate man, the most contemptible thing in the world. And any man who dares to preach that it is God’s right to do what he will with his own, to dispose of his creatures as he sees fit, and save whom he will, will be hissed at, despised, and cursed by this religious generation. Still, it is God upon the throne that we love, trust, and worship. And it is God upon the throne that we preach.
Sovereignty or Idolatry
God’s sovereignty is so basic and fundamental that it is impossible to understand any doctrine taught in the Bible until we recognize, and have some understanding of the fact that God is sovereign. A God who is not sovereign is as much a contradiction as a God who is not holy, eternal, and immutable. A God who is not sovereign is no God at all. If the god you worship is not totally sovereign, you are a pagan, and your religion is idolatry. You would be just as well off worshipping a statue of Mary, a totem pole, a spider, or the devil himself as to worship a god who lacks total sovereignty over all things.
In one of his letters to the learned and scholarly Erasmus, Martin Luther said, “Your thoughts of God are too human.” No doubt Erasmus resented the remark. But it exposed the heart of his heretical theology. And it exposes the heart of all false religion. I lay this charge against the preachers and theologians of our day, and against the people who hear them, follow them, and support them. ¾ Their thoughts of God are too human. I know the seriousness of what I have written. But it must be stated with emphatic clarity. The God of the Bible is utterly unknown in this religious generation.
God’s charge against apostate
The god of this generation no more resembles the sovereign Lord of heaven and earth than a flickering candle resembles the noon-day sun. The god of modern religion is nothing but an idol, the invention of men, a figment of man's imagination. Pagans in the dark ages used to carve their gods out of wood and stone and overlay them with silver and gold. Today, in these much darker days, pagans inside the church carve their god out of their own depraved imaginations. In reality, the religionists of our day are atheists, for there is no possible alternative between a God who is absolutely sovereign and no God at all. A god whose will can be resisted, whose purpose can be frustrated, whose power can be thwarted, whose grace can be nullified, whose work can be overturned has no title to Deity. Such a god is not a fit object of worship. Such a puny, pigmy god merits nothing but contempt.
When I say that God is sovereign, I am simply declaring that God is God. (I repeat myself deliberately.) He is the most High, the Lord of heaven and earth, overall, blessed forever. He is subject to none. And he is influenced by none. God is absolutely independent of and sovereign over all his creatures. He does as he pleases, only as he pleases, and always as he pleases. None can thwart him. None can resist him. None can change him. None can stop him. None can hinder him. He declares, “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure” (Isa. 46:10). “He doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth, and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?” (Dan. 4:35). Divine sovereignty means that God sits upon the throne of universal dominion, directing all things, ruling all things, and working all things “after the counsel of his own will” (Eph. 1:11).
This is a subject about which hundreds of books have been written, and yet “the half hath not been told.” Divine sovereignty is not some isolated doctrine, taught in a few verses of Scripture. It is revealed, literally, upon every page of Inspiration.
God’s sovereignty is irrefutably revealed in the eternal predestination of all things. Does the Bible teach predestination? Of course it does! Anyone who attempts to deny that it does is either totally ignorant of the Word of God, or a liar. God chose some men and women in eternity to be the objects of his saving grace and predestinated those elect ones to be conformed to the image of his dear Son (Rom. 8:28-29). Before the world began God sovereignly determined that he would save some, who they would be, and when he would save them. Having determined these things, our great God infallibly secured his eternal purpose of grace by sovereign predestination.
Yes, God predestinated from eternity everything that comes to pass in time to secure the salvation of his elect. That is the plainly stated doctrine of Holy Scripture (Eph. 1:3-6, 11; Rom. ). It is written, “All things are of God” (2 Cor. ). "The Lord hath made all things for himself" (Pro. 16:4). Eternal election marked the house into which God’s saving grace must come. Eternal predestination marked the path upon which grace must come. And sovereign providence led grace down the path to the house at the appointed time of love.
No one can reasonably deny the revelation of God’s sovereignty in his marvelous work of creation (Gen. 1:1; Rev. 4:11). Nothing moved God to create, except his own sovereign will. What could move him when there was nothing but God himself? Truly, “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Psa. 19:1-4). God created the heavens and the earth as a stage upon which he would work out his purpose of grace (Psa. 8:1-9). He created the angelic host to be ministering spirits to those who shall be the heirs of salvation (Heb. ). God created the sun, the moon, and the stars for the benefit of his elect. He created all plants and animals to provide food, comfort, and pleasure for man. At last, God created man in his own image and after his own likeness, that he might show forth the glory of his grace in man. Adam was created in the image of Christ, our eternal Surety and Substitute (Rom. -21). He was created in conditional holiness. In God's wise, holy, and good purpose of grace, Adam was permitted to fall, and we all fell in him that we might be raised to life again in Christ the last Adam.
We see God's sovereignty in all the works of his daily providence (Rom. ; ). In divine providence God almighty sovereignly accomplishes his eternal purpose of grace in predestination. The Holy Spirit showed John a beautiful picture of this. It is recorded in the Book of Revelation. He saw the Lord Jesus Christ as our Mediator, the Lamb of God, taking the book of God's purpose, opening the book, and fulfilling all that was written in it in all the world (Rev. 5:1-10; 10:1-11). He who is God our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, rules all things in providence by the book of God’s predestination.
God’s sovereign rule of
providence extends to all his creatures. Inanimate matter, irrational creatures,
and all things in this world perform their Maker’s bidding. It was by the
will of our God that the waters of the
God’s rule of providence extends
even to the thoughts, and wills, and actions, and words, even of wicked men.
He kept Abimelech from adultery with Sarah. He kept the Canaanites from
desiring the possessions of
The object of God’s providence, the object of God in all that he does, or allows to be done, is threefold. It is for the salvation of his elect, the eternal, spiritual good of all his people, and the glory of his great name. Here is a resting place for every believer's troubled heart. Neither Satan, the demons of hell, nor men, nor sickness, nor war, nor pestilence, nor the whirlwind is beyond the reach of God’s sovereign throne (Matt. ). Blessed be God, our times are in his hand (Ps. 31:15).
God’s indisputable sovereignty is conspicuously revealed
in the salvation of sinners by his almighty grace (
God’s sovereignty is, as we have already seen,
conspicuously revealed in the various spiritual gifts he bestows upon his
people (1 Cor. , 18, 28-29).
That is specifically what Matthew
asserts. He sees to it that his church has everything she needs to carry out
the work he has for her to do. We need missionaries, and pastors, too. We
need preachers, and deacons, as well. We need faithful witnesses; and we need
the prayers of God's saints. We need workers; and we need givers. We need
some to do great things, and some to do small things. In a word, we need Marthas and Marys, Johns and Jameses, Peters and Pauls,
“Our God is in the heavens. He hath done (and is doing) whatsoever he hath pleased.” Let us, therefore, believe him confidently, walk with him in peace, submit to him cheerfully, serve him faithfully, and honor him supremely. Gladly, we bow before God our Savior, and worship him with joy, who asks, “Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own?”