Godís sovereignty: pastoral applications

No biblical doctrine, however elevated, is without its practical benefit for the faithful. We need to be instructed in the ways of God; but it appears that the contempt of God's sovereignty, even among those who claim to believe in the true God, is widespread.

Naturally man would prefer to be free from God's empire and to be the captain of his own soul and fate. He thus abhors the idea of God's sovereignty (Leviticus 26:43). Such an attitude only exposes man to be the rebellious creature he is. But though he attempts to rid himself of God's sovereignty over him, he tries in vain. He cannot escape God.

Considering God's sovereignty, we notice all the more that all sin is a contempt of the divine dominion. As every act of obedience is a confirmation of the law, and consequently a subscription of the authority of the Lawgiver (Deuteronomy 27:26), so every breach spells a conspiracy against the sovereignty of the Lawgiver. Sin is "forgetting God" (Deuteronomy 8:11). Sinners are rebels (Jeremiah 1:21).

Thus all sin is, in its nature, the despoiling of God of his sole sovereignty. This was probably Lucifer's aim (Isaiah 14:12). His temptation moved on the similar lines: "Ye shall be as gods" (Genesis 3:5), and the Antichrist as driven forward by Satan exalts himself above all that is called God (2 Thessalonians 2:4). Man's determination has been to break God's bands from over him, and cast away his cords (Psalm 2:3).

The sovereignty of God has been invaded by the usurpations of men; the papacy (the Antichrist of Scripture) cunningly prohibits what God has allowed and approves what God has prohibited. Most of the errors of men may be resolved into a denial of God's sovereignty; all can be traced back to the same sentiment of Adam, wanting to be independent and sovereign as God is.

Furthermore, God's sovereignty is despised when men invent laws contrary to God's laws (Daniel 3, etc.) or prohibit what God has specifically commanded (Acts 5:28). The same applies when men make additions to God's laws, thus effectively setting the divine law aside. None may act as having dominion over another in matters of faith (2 Corinthians 1:24; 1 Peter 5:3).

The sovereign God is despised also when men prefer obeying human laws to divine law, practicing man's religion rather than obeying the Son as presented in the Gospel.

Limiting God in his way of working to our methods is another part of the contempt of his dominion (Psalm 78:41; Numbers 20:5). Similarly, pride and presumption is another way of invading his dominion (James 4:13,15).

We set at naught his dominion when we render him a slight and careless worship, as happened in the days of Malachi (1:14), when God was presented with lame and blind sheep. Are we rendering the things of God to God as is his due?

We are also instructed that God does actually govern the world. He is king of kings. God is certainly not powerless or sleepy in the government of the world, as some suppose.

God can do no wrong, since he is the absolute sovereign. He will not be arraigned before men; all his ways of just.

But if, as it is, God exercises sovereignty over the whole world, then merit is totally excluded. We are the sheep of his pasture. He owns us.

Sinners should carefully consider God's sovereignty.

Punishment necessarily follows upon the doctrine of sovereignty. It would be a faint and feeble sovereignty if it cannot preserve itself, and vindicate its own wrongs against rebellious subjects (Daniel 4:16,17). Pride immediately swells against God's authority; this shall be brought down that God may be exalted.

Such punishment is unavoidable. None can escape; God has sole authority over hell and death (Isaiah 10:3). In executing his judgement God can make any creature the instrument of his vengeance. Strong winds and tempests fulfill his word (Psalm 148:8) but so did the Israelites on their entrance in the promised land, when God commanded them to exterminate the pagan nations.

Such thoughts may bring further rebelliousness in man's sinful hearts. He may well speak of "God in the hands of angry sinners." But the truth of the matter remains as it was in the days of J.Edwards, "Sinners in the hands of an angry God."

That punishment will indeed be terrible. God is terrible to the kings of the earth; with God is terrible majesty (Psalm 76:12). What folly it is then to rebel against the Sovereign and persist in an unrepentant heart!

God's sovereignty brings comfort.

The throne of God indeed speaks of dread and terror, but it is sweet and full of comfort to the faithful, to all those who are reconciled to the King of the universe. How often God prefaces his command with "the Lord thy God."

God is sovereign, but his love towards his people is just as great. He is affectionate and loving, and would be known as the husband of Israel, rather than just their Master (Hosea 2:16,19).

In his being sovereign his forgiveness carries a full security. God grants pardon and none can repeal his decision (Isaiah 43:25). We may rest assured that his pardon will not come to nought; his gifts are without repentance.

Because he is able and independent, he will certainly subdue corruption in his voluntary subjects. The covenant, "I will be your God" implies protection, government, and relief, which are all grounded upon sovereignty. Our greatest burden will be removed by his sovereign power (Micah 7:19). He is far greater than he who is in the world; we have none to fear (1 John 4:4).

In this regard we have a strong encouragement for prayer. Contrary to what some conclude, the sovereignty of God induces us all the more to prayer: "Hearken to the voice of my cry, my King and my God."

Here the faithful also find comfort in the experience of affliction. As a sovereign, he is the author of afflictions; as a sovereign, he can be the remover of them. The church may be assured that the adversary's projects against her will come to nought: "There is no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against the Lord" (Proverbs 21:30).

The time will indeed come when the everlasting gospel will be preached to all, and God shall reign gloriously in Sion. Let us therefore shelter ourselves in the divine sovereignty, and regard God as the most high in our dangers and in our petitions (Psalm 57:1,2).

Meditation upon the Sovereign God.

If God has indeed such an extensive dominion as the Bible says he has, then it becomes us to meditate often upon this wonderful truth.

This will lead us and make it easier for us to fix our hope on him and make him the sole object of our trust. We should not depend upon second causes for our support, but look beyond them to the authority of God, and the dominion he has over all the works of his hands (Zechariah 10:1).

Furthermore, meditation on the sovereignty of God will naturally make us more diligent in worship. This is what Christ himself instructs us to do: "Our Father who art in heaven..." Our hearts are to be framed into an awful regard of him, when we consider that glorious and "fearful name, the Lord our God" (Deuteronomy 28:58). It is our duty to circumcise our hearts; but as it is, only the sovereign Lord can circumcise them on our behalf.

The due consideration of God's sovereignty would make us charitable to others. The Lord himself is to be honoured with our substance (Proverbs 3:9), not because he needs anything from us, for he gives breath and life and everything, but in that we might acknowledge his lordship over us.

If we really believe in God's sovereignty we would be better equipped to face affliction. The history of Job is a model here. There is indeed "a despising the chastening of the Almighty" (Job 5:17), for many assume that God is obliged to make them wealthy, healthy and wise. But this is the height of blasphemy. If we were to ask from God our due, we would have the experience of his everlasting wrath, and nothing else. Rather, "Do not deal with us according to our transgressions..."

The meditation upon the Most High would make us resign up ourselves to him in everything. When "misfortune" hits us, we may truly and wisely say, "It is the Lord, let him do what seems good," as Eli did (1 Samuel 3:18).

How we need to return and embrace high and lofty thoughts about the true God. Idolatry begins with misconceptions of God; true worship is the hearty acknowledgement of Him as he truly is.

Exhorted by the truth of God's sovereignty.

Coming face to face with God's sovereignty will give us a great opportunity towards a deeper degree of humility. We are not truly abased but by the consideration of the eminence and excellency of God. Even righteous Job had to ingest this lesson (Job 43:5,6). In beholding God's sovereignty we would cry out, What is man that so great a Majesty should be mindful of him? Are we come to a position that we could sincerely say that we are but "dust and ashes" before God, as Abraham did (Genesis 28:25-27).

The proper result from this doctrine of divine sovereignty is to praise him and thank him for dealing with us as he does. He is to be extolled for his royalty (Psalm 145:1ff.; Psalm 148 throughout). Since he is the Owner of all, we owe him thankfulness, something the lost are accused of not giving him (Romans 1). He is the bountiful Lord, insomuch that we can only say, in David's words, "Who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able to offer so willingly after this sort? for all things come of thee, and of thine own have we given thee" (1 Chronicles 29:14).

We should therefore be induced to promote his honour. We should think and speak of Him as he really is, without shame and reservation. This truth, which is given its proper place in Calvinistic theology, should not be eclipsed but rather be proclaimed far and wide. "Of him and through him and unto him are all things" (Romans 11:36). He is the efficient cause, the preserving cause and the final cause of all existence. We should speak of him as he truly is, for "those that honour me I will honour" (1 Samuel 2:30).

Besides, considering his sovereignty, we are to fear and reverence him. This is a duty incumbent upon us: "Who would not fear thee, O King of nations?" (Jeremiah 10:7; cf. Psalm 12: 27,28).

To trust him and consequently to pray to him is inferred also from his sovereignty. "Thine is the kingdom." Obedience naturally results from this doctrine. "Why call you me Lord Lord and do not the things that I say?" (Luke 6:46). It is comely and orderly to obey; it is honourable and advantageous for us to obey God.

But our obedience is to be indisputable, universal and perpetual, not only in a plenteous season but also in lean. Thus patience in adversity is also a duty flowing from this doctrine. The Lord may give but he may also take away. We are meant to submit to Him: "Though he slay me yet will I trust in him."

Our salvation dependent upon Godís good pleasure.

Our salvation issues from the good pleasure of God from all eternity. With good reason the Puritans elaborated on this point for this is really the crux of the matter, and in my situation, when I really grappled with this question and by grace accepted the Scripture testimony about the source of my salvation then my whole Christian life was revolutionized and I have never been the same ever since.

Not only I, but actually all Christians normally have to grapple with this fundamental question that determines whether you are truly Reformed or Arminian. It is a question of whether you acknowledge that God has a right to choose who will be the beholders of his glory.

It is disturbing to me to discover that Pink's original book, The Sovereignty of God, was severely censured by professed Calvinists in their own reprint. Three whole chapters, one of them dealing with reprobation, were left out and the four appendices were also deleted, supposedly to make the book less offensive to the average Christian.

But there is no escaping the fact that God does the choosing and his choice is irrevocable and final. It is according to his good pleasure. I am constantly filled with wonder and amazement that I am one of God's beloved children (1 Jn.3:1ff). Why me and not another? His ways are past finding out.

God's choice was not based on any merit in the creature; God was not influenced in his choice by external factors. He did not foresee works of evangelical obedience (Ephesians 2:8-10). It was only according to his own purpose and grace given to us in Christ before the world began (2 Timothy 1:9).

God bestows grace where and to whomsoever he pleases. It is by his will that we are born again and become his adopted children (James 1:18). I have nothing that I did not receive it in the first place.

These truths, so much maligned and twisted not only by the natural man but also by professed Christians, are a perennial source of blessing to me. In a very profound sense I can say that the sovereignty of God IS the gospel.