The Sovereignty of God
"Whatsoever the LORD pleased, that did he in heaven, and in earth, in the seas, and all deep places." -- Psalms 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
Every believer rejoices in the sovereignty of God. God’s saints rejoice to hear him say, “Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own?” (Matt. 20:15). Nothing in this world is more comforting to the believer’s heart than the knowledge of the fact 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. -- 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 Israel was, “Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself” (Psa. 50:21), and that is his indictment against the religious world of our day. Men today imagine that God is moved by sentiment, rather than by the determination of his sovereign will. They talk about omnipotence, but imagine that it is such an idle fiction that Satan can thwart the power of God. They think that if God has a plan, it must, like the plans of men, be subject to constant change. They tell us that whatever power God does possess must be limited, lest he violate man’s free-will and make him a machine. The grace of God is thought by most people to be nothing but a helpless, frustrated desire of God to save men. The precious sin-atoning blood of Christ is thought by most to be a waste, shed in vain for many. And the invincible, saving power of the Holy Spirit is reduced by most to a gentle offer of grace which men may easily resist. All such thoughts about God are blasphemies of idolaters.
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. He is the most High, 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. In this study, we will consider just five things which manifestly and irrefutably reveal the sovereignty of God: (1.) predestination, (2.) creation, (3.) providence, (4.) salvation, and (5.) spiritual gifts
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. 11:36). It is written, “All things are of God” (2 Cor. 5:18). "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 to 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. 1:14). 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. 5:12-21). 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 second Adam.
We see God's sovereignty in all the works of his daily providence (Rom. 8:28; 11:36). In divine providence, God almighty sovereignly accomplishes his eternal purpose of grace in predestination. The Holy Spirit showed John a beautiful picture of this 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, all things in this world perform their Maker’s bidding. It was by the will of our God that the waters of the Red Sea divided (Ex. 14). By his word the earth opened up her mouth to swallow his enemies (Num. 14). When he willed it, the sun stood still (Josh. 10) and went backward ten degrees on the sundial of Ahaz. Once, he even made an ax head float. Ravens carried food to his prophet (1 Kings 17). Lions were tamed by God's decree for his servant Daniel. He made the fire refuse to burn his faithful servants when they were cast into the fiery furnace. All things come to pass, or not, at his pleasure.
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 Israel, when they went to worship him (Read Ex. 34:23-24). The hearts of all men, their thoughts, intents, and passions, are in the hands of our God (Pro. 21:1). Shemei was sent of God to curse David. Even the wrath of man shall praise him, and the remainder of wrath, that which he chooses not to use for his praise, he restrains (Psa. 76:10).
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. 10:30). Blessed be God, “Our times are in his hand!”
God’s indisputable sovereignty is conspicuously revealed in the salvation of sinners by his almighty grace (Rom. 9:8-24). God chose to save some, but not all. He gave Christ to die for some, but not all. He sends his gospel to some, but not all. He gives his Spirit to some, but not all. He causes some to hear his voice, but not all. He saves some who seek him, but not all. He saved the woman with the issue of blood but not the rich young ruler, the one leper but not the nine, the publican but not the Pharisee. “Salvation is of the Lord!” He planned it. He purchased it. He performs it. He preserves it. He perfects it. He shall have all the praise for it.
God’s sovereignty is also conspicuously revealed in the various spiritual gifts he bestows upon his people (1 Cor. 12:14, 18, 28-29). 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, Lydias and Lucases. God gives each when they are needed and where they are needed for the accomplishment of his will. Let each child of God covet earnestly the best gift, the gift of love one for another. If we have that, we will serve God and his people well in our place, using all other gifts accordingly.
“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.