God’s Sovereignty

God’s Sovereignty

In this session of our
study of predestination, I want to focus our attention
on the sovereignty of God. One of the reasons why I think
it’s important that we really begin here with our
study of the doctrine is that here is an area in which
virtually all Christians agree. We agree that God is sovereign. How we understand the
sovereignty of God may differ from
Christian to Christian, but certainly we would
all make the confession that God is sovereign. The third chapter of the
Westminster Confession begins with these words, “God,
from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy
counsel of His own will, freely and immutably” – that is
without possibility of changing it – “God did freely and
immutably ordain whatsoever comes to pass;” Let me take
a breath there at the point of the semi-colon. God, from all
eternity, according to His own holy and
wise counsel did freely and immutably ordain,
or foreordain whatsoever comes to pass. And I paused at that point
in the seminary classroom, and I said to my
students, “How many of you believe that statement?” Now you have to understand, this
was a Presbyterian seminary, so these fellows
were pretty well steeped in the
Augustinian tradition, and I got like a 70% vote there,
that that large number believed it. Then I said, “Okay,
how many of you don’t believe that statement?” And 30 or so hands went in
the air, and I said, “Fine. Now let me ask another question. Without fear of
recriminations, nobody’s going to jump all
over you, we just would like to know, feel
free to state your position – how many of you would
call yourselves atheists?” And nobody put their hand up. And I went into my
Lieutenant Colombo routine – “There’s just one thing
here I can’t understand.” I said – I looked at those 30
who had raised their hands, and I said, “Do you mind if I
ask you a personal question?” I said, “I can’t figure
out why those of you who raised your hand saying you
did not believe this statement, didn’t raise your hand when
I asked if you were atheist.” And they looked at me with
a mixture of puzzlement, bewilderment – the same kind of
looks I’m seeing in your eyes here today – and I was saying,
“Because if you don’t believe this statement, you understand,
fundamentally, bottom line, you’re an atheist.” And that was about the
most outrageous thing they ever heard in their lives. I said, “Well, let’s
understand that this statement that I have just read, that
God has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass, is not a
statement that is unique to Calvinism or to
Presbyterianism. It doesn’t distinguish
the Reformed tradition from other traditions;
it doesn’t even distinguish Christians
from Jews or from Muslims. This statement here
distinguishes theists from atheists. Now, they were still puzzled
as I continued this harangue, and I said, “Don’t you
see that if there’s anything that
happens in this world outside the
foreordination of God, that if there’s no sense
in which God is ordaining whatsoever comes to pass,
then at whatever point something happens outside
the foreordination of God, it is therefore
happening outside of the sovereignty of God?” Because we understand that when
we talk about God’s ordaining things, there are different ways
that God ordains things to come to pass; this
doesn’t necessarily mean that God jumps
down into the planet and makes something happen
through a direct and immediate personal involvement
on His part. But the trick, I guess,
in the statement, has to do with
the word “ordain.” All that that statement
means is that God is sovereign over
anything that happens. Anything that happens in this
world cannot happen apart from divine sovereignty. We distinguish sometimes
between God’s efficacious will and His permissive
will; you’ve heard those kinds of distinctions. But let me make it, state in the
easiest of all possible terms. If something happens in this
world, by the power of men, by the power of nature,
by the power of machines, God always has the
power and authority to prevent it at least from
happening, does He not? And if He does not
prevent it from happening, then that means at
least this much: that He has chosen
to let it happen. That doesn’t mean
that He applauds it; that doesn’t mean that
He’s in favor of it, insofar as He gives His divine
sanction to it, but He does allow, not in the sense of
again approving all the time, but He does allow it to
happen, and in so allowing, He is making a decision, and
He is making it sovereignly. And He knows in advance
what is going to happen, and if He decrees
that it shall happen, He is retaining His
sovereignty over it. Now if things happen in this
world outside the sovereignty of God, then that would simply
mean that God is not sovereign. And the reason I brought
up the question of atheism, is of course, if God
is not sovereign, then God is not what? God. It’s that simple. If God is not
sovereign, God is not God, and if the god you believe
in is not a sovereign god, than you really
don’t believe in God. You may have a
theory of God, you may have theoretical
theism, but bottom line, for all practical purposes,
it’s no different from atheism because you are believing in
a god who is not sovereign. Now what are the
practical implications of a non-sovereign God? Think of it now from the
perspective of those of you who are professing Christians. I like to explain it
this way: If there’s one molecule in the
universe running loose, outside of the control of
God’s sovereignty, what I like to call the “one
maverick molecule,” then the practical implication for
us as Christians is that we have no guarantee whatsoever
that any future promise that God has made to His
people will come to pass. Remember when you
were little kids, and you learned a little
rhyme “For want of a nail, the shoe was lost; for want of
the shoe, the horse was lost; for want of the horse,
the rider was lost; for want of the rider,
the battle was lost; for want of the battle,
the war was lost”? One grain of sand in the
kidney of Oliver Cromwell changed the whole course
of western civilization. A tiny little
thing like that can change the course of history. A bullet into the
head of John Kennedy changed the course
of American history. Now, if we have one maverick
molecule running loose out there, we have no
assurance whatsoever that that single
molecule may not be the grain of sand in
the machinery of God’s eternal plan. It may be that thing
that runs amuck and makes it impossible ultimately
for Christ to return to this planet. It may be the
thing that destroys any hope for the consummation
of the Kingdom of God, and leaving all of those
promises of God unfulfilled. There are no maverick
molecules in a universe where God is sovereign! Now, I need to continue what the
Westminster Confession of Faith says. Remember, I gave
you a semi-colon? After that semi-colon,
the Confession is quick to add, “that
though God ordains whatsoever comes to pass, yet He
does it in such a way as thereby neither is
God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to
the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or
contingency of secondary causes taken away but
rather established.” So, we’re not talking
about a rigid determinism that eliminates free creatures. But we are affirming a sovereign
God, who is sovereign even over free creatures. That is the point that
the Confession is making. Now this brings us
to the thorny problem that came up at least briefly in
one of our discussion periods. “If God is totally sovereign,
and if people are fallen and some perish, how can
God, who is sovereign, allow evil in the world? How can God allow
people to perish? If God knows in
advance, for example, that a certain person
is going to be born, and is going to live their
life, and perish everlastingly in hell, how could a good
God let that happen?” To set the problem even more
graphically for you, let’s consider for a moment the
relationship of a sovereign God to a world that is fallen,
because one thing – two things – that all Christians
agree on: 1) that God is sovereign, and 2)
that the world is fallen. Don’t we all agree on that? Certainly there’s no dispute on
that point between Calvinists and Arminians, or Augustinians
and semi-Pelagians. We all agree that
God is sovereign, and we all agree
that men are fallen. It’s the question
of the relationship between the sovereign God to
a fallen world that now grasps our concern and our attention. There are basically
four ways in which God can relate as a sovereign
God to a fallen world. Number 1, God could decide
to give no one who is fallen an opportunity for salvation. His love is a just and a holy
love, and a just and holy God is never required to love
a rebellious creation to the extent of
extending mercy to it. He could love fallen
man and punish fallen man, whom He loves, as
an expression of His justice. (More on that later). Let’s keep our eye now on the
four things that God could do. He could decide that, “I
will provide no opportunity for anybody to be saved.” Now, before we go any further,
let me ask you this question: If God decided not
to save anybody, would there be anything
wrong with that? If God decided to punish
the entire human race for the human race’s rejection
of God and rebellion to God, the only objection we
could give at that point is that God is just. And that’s hardly an objection! I mean, can you
imagine the attorney standing up in the courtroom and
saying, “Objection, your Honor. I don’t like that decision
because it’s just.” How far would that go? I mean God would be perfectly
justified to exercise justice against an unjust creation. But you see, lurking
behind all of this is somehow the
assumption that God, if He’s really going to be a
good God, must be merciful. And as I’ve often
said to my students, that’s one of the greatest
pitfalls in Christian thinking. As soon as your mind tells
you that God must be merciful, or that God ought to be kind, as
soon as you think for a second that God is obligated
to be merciful, a bell ought to go off in your
head and alert you to the fact that you’re not thinking
about mercy anymore. Because, by definition,
the big difference between mercy and justice
is that mercy is never, never, never obligatory. Mercy, by definition
is something God doesn’t have to do. It’s something that God
does voluntarily, freely. But as soon as you
think He owes us mercy, you’re not thinking
about mercy anymore. Justice can be owed, but
mercy is never obligatory. Do we get that? We have to understand
that principle. Okay, that’s one option. God could have said,
nobody on this planet, since all have sinned and
fallen short of the glory of God – and He perceives from
all eternity, He sees us, He sees our
fallenness – He says, He could decide to provide
no opportunity for salvation. All right? Second thing is, He could
provide an opportunity for everyone to be saved. (Actually, there’s six
things that we could do here, and I’m just trying to shortcut
this for the sake of time, and I’ll just put in
parentheses here – or, He could create an
opportunity for some people to be saved). But, bottom line, God
could give the world an opportunity for salvation,
and set it up in such a way that everybody, or some
of the people at least had a chance to be saved;
but there’s no guarantee that anybody would
ever be saved. Okay? That’s what we mean
by opportunity. God is an equal opportunity
redeemer in this scheme. The third option is
that God, exercising His power and His
sovereignty, could intrude into the
human situation, not only providing an
opportunity for salvation, but by so working in the
hearts of fallen people, ensure the salvation of some. Or, let’s put it
this way – ensure the salvation of everybody. That is, God can
intervene for everybody, ensuring their salvation. That is, in His
sovereignty, He could so guide the steps
of a person and so influence inwardly their hearts
as to actually bring them to faith. Now, again, does God have
the power to do that? Yes. Now He could do
that for some, or He could do that for everybody. These are different options
that God had, or has. What we’re trying to get at in
this course is, what in fact has He done? Now, does the Bible
indicate that God has provided no opportunity
for anybody to be saved? We can eliminate that
one as Christians, can’t we, right off the bat. There’s no argument there. We all agree that this
is not the biblical view, that God has made no provision
whatsoever for salvation. Now, how about the idea that God
intervenes in everybody’s life and ensures the
salvation of everyone? What do we call that view? Universalism. And there are Christians
who believe in Universalism. But the debate historically
between semi-Pelagianism and Augustinianism is not
a debate over Universalism. Those two viewpoints
both agree, what? That only some people
ultimately are saved. They are Particularists
rather than Universalists. The Bible seems to
teach, I think clearly, that there are
those who are lost, ultimately lost, and at the
Last Judgment will be lost. As our Lord indicates, some will
be sent out into outer darkness forever, weeping and
gnashing of teeth. So we believe that there
are some people who will never be redeemed. So this one has
to be eliminated. So what we’re left with
are these alternatives: either God gives an opportunity
for all, or only some; or God does more than simply
make an opportunity available. He actually comes in and
intervenes and ensures that some people are saved. Now this is what we call
– (that should be some – God makes certain
that some are saved) – now, this is the
position of Augustinianism that God ensures the salvation
of the elect, or of those who are predestined to be saved. The non-Augustinian views
fall under this category, one or the other. Either that God makes it
possible for everybody, or some, to be saved. Everybody has the opportunity
or some have the opportunity. Now, before we debate about
which one is actually the case, let me ask this
question: Could God ensure the salvation of
everyone, if He so decide? Does He have the
sovereign power to do it? Now keep in mind that one of
the most frequent objections to the Augustinian
view of predestination is that God intervenes in
the life of certain people and ensures their salvation, but
He doesn’t do it for everybody. And the objection from the
non-Augustinian view is, “Hey, God! That’s not fair! If you’re going
to do it for some, then you ought to do it what? For everybody!” But do you see that the person
over here has the same problem? If this person believes
that God has the power to bring everybody to salvation,
and He doesn’t, really that argument falls on the head
here because all God does in that case is give the
opportunity to fallen men to be saved. In this one, God does more
than give the opportunity; He assures that some
people will be saved. In this scheme,
there’s no assurance that anybody will be saved. In fact, as I think
we will see later, it assures us, if
we take seriously the biblical view of fallen
man and his attitude toward God and God’s grace – would
assure in my mind, at least – that nobody would be saved. In other words,
what I’m getting at, is that one of the
chief objections of the Reformed or
Augustinian position is that it’s not gracious
enough, when in fact, it’s so much more gracious! Because God doesn’t just
say, “Okay, here’s the cross. Choose it if you will,” and
leaves people to themselves. But God applies
the work of Christ. The Holy Spirit
works in people who are dead in sin and trespasses
in order to bring them to faith and to ensure that
the death of Christ is never in vain,
that Christ will see the travail of His
soul and be satisfied. The Scriptures speak of God
giving people, God the Father giving people to God the Son. So, what we have here is
that the one scheme, – what it has going for
us, is that at least, theoretically, the opportunity
is given to everybody. Anybody who believes in
the gospel can be saved. However, there are millions
and millions and millions of people who never hear the
gospel, who in fact don’t have the opportunity. The only real opportunity,
the only thing we can really talk about here is
that some have the opportunity; some who are not predestined
have the opportunity to be saved. That is, this argument
would be everyone who hears the gospel at least
has an opportunity to be saved. But God has not made sure
that everybody in the world hears the gospel. Could God make sure that
everybody in the world hears the gospel? Could God print it in the
clouds if He wanted to? Yes, but He doesn’t. And so we are left
with that problem that God does not do everything
that God conceivably could do. Within the bounds of
His own righteousness, He does not do
everything conceivable to ensure the
salvation of the world. Now why not? I don’t know. I have no idea why not. I know that He doesn’t. That much is clear. And I know that there’s no
shadow of turning in Him. I know that God is under no
obligation to save anybody, and I know that God
does save somebody. But God is God, and
God reminds His people of one crucial principle
of divine sovereignty. We will look at that
more closely later on in this course, where God
reminds Moses, and then later the Church through Paul,
of His divine prerogative. “I will have mercy upon
whom I will have mercy.” God never owes mercy. Real quickly, if God
only saves some people, we have to understand
that we have two groups of
people in the world – the saved and the unsaved. But they are all part
of a group of sinners. All have fallen; all are
in rebellion against God. What God does, according
to the Augustinian view, is that He sovereignly elects
and chooses and redeems some, and the rest He passes over. So that what you
have in this schema is that one group gets mercy. What does this group get? Justice. Who gets injustice? Nobody gets injustice. Now mercy is not justice. Mercy is non-justice, and
injustice is non-justice. But injustice and mercy
are not the same thing. They’re both outside of
the category of justice. Here’s justice, and over
here we have non-justice and non-justice is of two
types – mercy and injustice. One form of
non-justice is mercy. Is there anything sinful
or wicked about mercy? No, mercy is perfectly good. Is there anything sinful
or wicked about injustice? Yes, injustice is a
violation of justice. Injustice is sin;
injustice is evil. Now if God gave mercy to
this group and injustice to this group, then God would
have His integrity compromised. But God gives justice to one
group, mercy to another group. Nobody has ever been a victim of
injustice at the hands of God. All right, I need to
stop at that point and say to you that
in our next session, we will consider where
man’s free will comes into play in all of this.

24 Replies to “God’s Sovereignty”

  1. This man does some good teaching. However he distorts sovereignty and misinterprets predestination. Stay away from those teachings!

  2. John 6:50-51 K.J.V
    This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man MAY eat thereof, and not die.
    I am the LIVING BREAD which came down from heaven: if ANY MAN eat of this BREAD, he shall LIVE for EVER: and the BREAD that I will GIVE is my flesh, which I will GIVE for the LIFE of the WORLD.
    John 6:50-51

    KJV Dictionary Definition: manman

    MAN, n. plu. men. Heb.species, kind, image, similitude.

    1. Mankind; the human race; the whole species of human beings; beings distinguished from all other animals by the powers of reason and speech, as well as by their shape and dignified aspect. "Os homini sublime dedit."

    And God said, Let us make man in our image, , after our likeness, and let them have dominion–Gen.1.

    Man that is born of a woman, is of few days and full of trouble. Job.14.

    My spirit shall not always strive with man. Gen.6.

    I will destroy man whom I have created. Gen.6.

    There hath no temptation taken you, but such as is common to man. 1 Cor.10.

    It is written,man shall not live by bread alone. Matt.4.

    There must be somewhere such a rank as man.

    Respecting man, whatever wrong we call–

    But vindicate the ways of God to man.

    The proper study of mankind is man.

    In the System of Nature, man is ranked as a distinct genus.

    When opposed to woman, man sometimes denotes the male sex in general.

    Woman has, in general, much stronger propensity than man to the discharge of parental duties.

    In (John 6:50-51 K.J.V) The word "may" is 3. To have moral power; to have liberty, leave, license or PERMISSION; to be permitted; to be allowed. A man may do what the laws permit. He may do what is not against decency, propriety or good manners. We may not violate the laws, or the rules of good breeding. I told the servant he might be absent.

    KJV Dictionary Definition: may

    MAY, n. L. Maius.

    1. The fifth month of the year, beginning with January, but the third, beginning with March, as was the ancient practice of the Romans.

    2. A young woman.

    3. The early part of life.

    His May of youth and bloom of lustihood.

    MAY, v.i. To gather flowers in May-morning.

    MAY, verb aux; pret.might.

    1. To be possible. We say, a thing may be, or may not be; an event may happen; a thing may be done, if means are not wanting.

    2. To have physical power; to be able.

    Make the most of life you may.

    3. To have moral power; to have liberty, leave, license or permission; to be permitted; to be allowed. A man may do what the laws permit. He may do what is not against decency, propriety or good manners. We may not violate the laws, or the rules of good breeding. I told the servant he might be absent.

    Thou mayest be no longer steward. Luke 16.

    4. It is used in prayer and petitions to express desire. O may we never experience the evils we dread. So also in expressions of good will. May you live happily, and be a blessing to your country. It was formerly used for can, and its radical sense is the same.

    May be, it may be, are expressions equivalent to perhaps, by chance, peradventure, that is, it is possible to be.


    MA'YING, n. The gathering of flowers on May-day.

  3. John 3:16New King James Version (NKJV)
    16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.**

    **However, if you are pondering this, don’t bother. Most are held in bondage by God and will not be able to understand or make a choice. If you weren’t sovereignly regenerated this will make no sense to you so you must be predetermined for eternal torment in hell.

  4. What a sad perversion of the gospel of Jesus Christ when RC's human logic relies more on Westminster Confession of Faith and 'Augustinian Tradition' with only cursory reference to God's Word where it suits.

  5. is there not a fundamental difference between ordainging or decreeing something to happen and permitting it to happen. Conflating these thing is not helpful.
    It seems all theists believe that God in His sovereignty permits evil, but that is completely different to God decreeing evil, that same evil that he does not approve of!

  6. I wonder if God predestined RC to get that perm? I'll have to reconsider my faith if He did.
    The statement doesn't mean that nothing happens outside of God's sovereignty. It means that it was decreed or ordered by God. If I pick my nose that doesn't affect God's sovereignty, but neither does it mean that God decreed that I should pick it. Such a silly and needless twisting of the definition.

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