The Sovereignty of God – Part 3

So, just how do we define the Sovereignty of God? The answer to that question is daunting indeed.  And no definition or set of definitions can fully bring complete understanding simply because the answer goes to the very heart of who an infinite, all-knowing, all-powerful God is in His nature and person and puts a full and complete understanding out of the reach of finite, fallen man. Such great theologians such as Augustine, Calvin and Melanethon, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, and Ralph Erskine, Andrew Fuller, A.A. Hodge, Robert Haldane have all written extensively on this subject.  Contemporaries, such as the late Arthur Pink, John Piper and Desiring God Ministries, R.C. Sproul and Ligonier’s Ministries, J.I. Packer, and other systematic works such as Grudem’s, have made helpful and strong arguments for a Biblical view on the Sovereignty of God.  It is also to be noted that the modern “Reformed Movement,” crossing denominational lines, has made great strides to proclaim a Biblical view of God’s Sovereignty. So, with being said, this article should be seen as a modest attempt to define the sovereignty of God.

As we look at this topic and search to define God’s sovereignty, one thing should be obvious; The God of the universe and the Scriptures has the absolute right to do all things according to His own good pleasure ( Psa. 22:28; 47:7; 97:1; Dan.4:25,35; Rom. 9:15-23; 1Tim. 6:15; Rev. 4:11).  That is, and must be, the premise for this discussion as it goes right to the point of the nature and Lordship of God. He has possession of ultimate authority and power. In political theory the state is often regarded as sovereign, while in theology, sovereignty is a characteristic of the all-powerful, all-knowing Creator, who governs the universe for his own purposes. This speaks to the biblical concept of God’s kingly, supreme rule and legal authority over the entire universe. God’s sovereignty is expressed, exercised and displayed in the divine plan for and outworking of salvation history.[1] As Unger’s Bible Dictionary puts it; “The possession of the most complete sovereignty is a necessary part of the proper conception of God and is abundantly declared in the Scriptures (e.g., Psalm 50:1; Psalm 66:7; Psalm 93:1; Isaiah 40:15, 17; 1 Tim. 6:15; Rev. 11:17).” [2] Unger goes on to say:

“The term absolute sovereignty as used in Calvinism means the sovereign election of a certain number to salvation and the sovereign reprobation of others. There is a sense, indeed, in which the sovereignty of God is absolute. He is under no external restraint whatsoever. He is the Supreme Dispenser of all events. All forms of existence are within the scope of His dominion. And yet this is not to be viewed in any such way as to abridge the reality of the moral freedom of God’s responsible creatures or to make men anything else than the arbiters of their own eternal destinies. God has seen fit to create beings with the power of choice between good and evil. He rules over them in justice and wisdom and grace.”[3]

The biblical teaching that God is the source of all creation and that all things come from and depend upon God (Ps. 24:1). Sovereignty means that God is in all and over all.  God’s sovereignty is transcendent, beyond our complete comprehension. God is separate from His creation and works in ways that human beings do not always understand. Transcendence is closely related to God’s holiness, His surpassing moral purity and essential otherness.[4]

Isaiah 6:1 (NKJV) 1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple.

The most complete and understandable definition is given by Arthur Pink in his book ; The Sovereignty of God”:

“We mean the supremacy of God, the kingship of God, the god-hood of God. To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that God is God. To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the Most High, doing according to His will in the army of Heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth, so that none can stay His hand or say unto Him what doest Thou? (Daniel 4:35). To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the Almighty, the Possessor of all power in Heaven and earth, so that none can defeat His counsels, thwart His purpose, or resist His will (Psalms 115:3). To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is “The Governor among the nations” (Psalms 22:28), setting up kingdoms, overthrowing empires, and determining the course of dynasties as pleaseth Him best. To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the “Only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords” (1 Timothy 6:15). Such is the God of the Bible.”[5]

John Piper, speaking of the definition of “sovereignty” is clear on the subject and extent of His sovereignty;

“The word “sovereignty” (like the word “trinity”) does not occur in the Bible. I use it to refer to this truth: God is in ultimate control of the world from the largest international intrigue to the smallest bird-fall in the forest. Here is how the Bible puts it:

“I am God, and there is no other . . . my counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose” (Isaiah 46:9–10). “God does according to his will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What doest thou?’” (Daniel 4:35). “But he is unchangeable and who can turn him? What he desires, that he does. For he will complete what he appoints for me” (Job 23:13–14). “Our God is in the heavens; he does whatever he pleases” (Psalm 115:3).”[6]

As you study the Scriptures, the principle and doctrine of the Sovereignty of God stands out clear.  But there is no amount of opposition to this most precious truth.  I am convinced the opposition that comes from those who claim to be believers  is found in the objection that is rooted in the flesh, which I already mention in Part 1, and a theological construct that places the “free will” of man over the sovereignty of God. The objections come from various fundamentalist, conservatives, charismatics, and Pentecostals in varying degrees. Often, the objections are vitriolic and highly emotional. Here’s an example from the popular charismatic teacher, Andrew Wommack and ARMI:

“I believe this is the worst doctrine in the church today. I know that this is a shocking statement and is near blasphemy to some people, but the way sovereignty” is taught today is a real faith killer. The belief that God controls everything that happens to us is one of the devil’s biggest inroads into our lives. If this belief is true, then our actions are irrelevant, and our efforts are meaningless. What will be will be.

When reading the rest of the article, the argument sought to portray the doctrine of the Sovereignty of God as some sort of an assault on God’s character:

“If we believe that God wills everything, good or bad, to happen to us, it gives us some temporary relief from confusion and condemnation, but in the long-term, it slanders God, hinders our trust in God, and leads to passiveness….“As if it wasn’t bad enough for man to try to run his affairs independently of God and His standards, it has been made even worse by religion teaching us that all our problems are actually blessings from God. That is a faith killer.”[7]

The rest of the article listed all the common objections.  Unless, for many, the sovereignty of God can be reconciled with the free-will of man, circumstances that are not “blessings,” and a semi-pelagian view of salvation that promoted synergism[8], any other view or definition of sovereignty would be rejected.

To say that “God is sovereign in the sense that He is paramount and supreme,”[9] is to say nothing, if He does not exert His sovereignty over all things.  Rather, as Arthur Pink puts it;

“The Sovereignty of the God of Scripture is absolute, irresistible, infinite. When we say that God is Sovereign we affirm His right to govern the universe which He has made for His own glory, just as He pleases. We affirm that His right is the right of the Potter over the clay, i. e., that He may mold that clay into whatsoever form He chooses, fashioning out of the same lump one vessel unto honor and another unto dishonor. We affirm that He is under no rule or law outside of His own will and nature, that God is a law unto Himself, and that He is under no obligation to give an account of His matters to any.”[10]

And to that end we agree with Pink when he says; “Sovereignty characterizes the whole Being of God. He is Sovereign in all His attributes. He is Sovereign in the exercise of His power. His power is exercised as He wills, when He wills, where He wills.”[11]
-Michael Holtzinger

[1] Stanley J. Grenz, David Guretzki, Cherith Fee Nordling, “sovereignty,” in Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “sovereignty”.

[2] Merrill Unger, The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1957), s.v. “,” WORDsearch CROSS e-book

[3] Ibib

[4] Trent C. Butler, ed., “SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD,” in Holman Bible Dictionary, (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 1991), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD”.

[5] Arthur Walkington Pink, The Sovereignty Of God, WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 19.

[6] John Piper, Desiring God Resources, “A Very Precious and Practical Doctrine”

[7] http://www.awmi.net/reading/teaching-articles/sovereignty_god/

[8] Synergism: a.) Working together in the Gospel (Rom. 16:3, 9 21) b.) Theologically the term is used for views of salvation, particularly, Semi-Pelagianism and Arminianism, where the human will cooperates with the divine will in achieving salvation. [Donald K. McKim, Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms, Westminster John Knox Press, 1996, pg.274.]

[9] http://www.awmi.net/reading/teaching-articles/sovereignty_god/

[10] Arthur Walkington Pink, The Sovereignty Of God, WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 21.

[11] Ibib

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