THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD
By Arthur W. Pink
GOD'S SOVEREIGNTY DEFINED
Lord, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and
the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is Thine;
Thine is the kingdom, O Lord, and Thou art exalted as Head above all"
1 Chronicles 29:11
The Sovereignty of God
is an expression that once was generally understood. It was a phrase
commonly used in religious literature. It was a theme frequently expounded
in the pulpit. It was a truth which brought comfort to many hearts, and gave
virility and stability to Christian character. But, today, to make mention
of God’s sovereignty is, in many quarters, to speak in an unknown tongue.
Were we to announce from the average pulpit that the subject of our
discourse would be the sovereignty of God, it would sound very much as
though we had borrowed a phrase from one of the dead languages. Alas! that
it should be so. Alas! that the doctrine which is the key to history, the
interpreter of Providence, the warp and woof of Scripture, and the
foundation of Christian theology, should be so sadly neglected and so little
The sovereignty of God.
What do we mean by this expression? We mean the supremacy of God, the
kingship of God, the godhood 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? (Dan. 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 (Ps. 115:3). To say that God is sovereign is to declare that He is
"The Governor among the nations" (Ps. 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 Tim.
6:15). Such is the God of the Bible.
How different is the
God of the Bible from the God of modern Christendom! The conception of Deity
which prevails most widely today, even among those who profess to give heed
to the Scriptures, is a miserable caricature, a blasphemous travesty of the
Truth. The God of the twentieth century is a helpless, effeminate being who
commands the respect of no really thoughtful man. The God of the popular
mind is the creation of a maudlin sentimentality. The God of many a
present-day pulpit is an object of pity rather than of awe-inspiring
reverence. To say that God the Father has purposed the salvation of all
mankind, that God the Son died with the express intention of saving the
whole human race, and that God the Holy Spirit is now seeking to win the
world to Christ; when, as a matter of common observation, it is apparent
that the great majority of our fellow-men are dying in sin, and passing into
a hopeless eternity: is to say that God the Father is disappointed, that
God the Son is dissatisfied, and that God the Holy Spirit is defeated. We have stated the issue baldly, but there is no escaping the
conclusion. To argue that God is "trying His best" to save all
mankind, but that the majority of men will not let Him save them, is to
insist that the will of the Creator is impotent, and that the will of the
creature is omnipotent. To throw the blame, as many do, upon the Devil, does
not remove the difficulty, for if Satan is defeating the purpose of God,
then, Satan is Almighty and God is no longer the Supreme Being.
To declare that the
Creator’s original plan has been frustrated by sin, is to dethrone God.
To suggest that God was taken by surprise in Eden and that He is now
attempting to remedy an unforeseen calamity, is to degrade the Most
High to the level of a finite, erring mortal. To argue that man is a free
moral agent and the determiner of his own destiny, and that therefore he has
the power to checkmate his Maker, is to strip God of the attribute of
Omnipotence. To say that the creature has burst the hounds assigned by his
Creator, and that God is now practically a helpless Spectator before the sin
and suffering entailed by Adam’s fall, is to repudiate the express
declaration of Holy Writ, namely, "Surely the wrath of man shall praise
Thee: the remainder of wrath shalt Thou restrain" (Ps.
76:10). In a word, to deny the sovereignty of God is to enter upon a path
which, if followed to its logical terminus, is to arrive at blank atheism.
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 mould 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.
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. This fact is
evidenced on every page of Scripture. For a long season that power appears
to be dormant, and then it is put forth in irresistible might. Pharaoh dared
to hinder Israel from going forth to worship Jehovah in the wilderness—what
happened? God exercised His power, His people were delivered and their cruel
task-masters slain. But a little later, the Amalekites dared to attack these
same Israelites in the wilderness, and what happened? Did God put forth His
power on this occasion and display His hand as He did at the Red Sea? Were
these enemies of His people promptly overthrown and destroyed? No, on the
contrary, the Lord swore that He would "have war with Amalek from
generation to generation" (Ex. 17:16). Again, when Israel
entered the land of Canaan, God’s power was signally displayed. The city
of Jericho barred their progress—what happened? Israel did not draw a bow
nor strike a blow: the Lord stretched forth His hand and the walls fell down
flat. But the miracle was never repeated! No other city fell after this
manner. Every other city had to be captured by the sword!
Many other instances
might be adduced illustrating the sovereign exercise of God’s power. Take
one other example. God put forth His power and David was delivered from
Goliath, the giant; the mouths of the lions were closed and Daniel escaped
unhurt; the three Hebrew children were cast into the burning fiery furnace
and came forth unharmed and unscorched. But God’s power did not always
interpose for the deliverance of His people, for we read: "And
others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of
bonds and imprisonment: they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were
tempted, were slain with the sword; they wandered about in sheepskins and
goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented" (Heb. 11:36, 37). But
why? Why were not these men of faith delivered like the others? Or, why were
not the others suffered to be killed like these? Why should God’s power
interpose and rescue some and not the others? Why allow Stephen to be stoned
to death, and then deliver Peter from prison?
God is sovereign in the delegation of His power to others. Why did God endow Methuselah with
a vitality which enabled him to outlive all his contemporaries? Why did God
impart to Samson a physical strength which no other human has ever
possessed? Again; it is written, "But thou shalt remember the Lord thy
God: for it is He that giveth thee power to get wealth" (Deut.
8:18), but God does not bestow this power on all alike. Why not? Why has He
given such power to men like Morgan, Carnegie, Rockefeller? The answer to
all of these questions, is, Because God is Sovereign, and being Sovereign He
does as He pleases.
God is sovereign in the
exercise of His mercy. Necessarily so, for mercy
is directed by the will of Him that showeth mercy. Mercy is not a right to which man is entitled. Mercy is that adorable attribute of God by
which He pities and relieves the wretched. But under the righteous
government of God no one is wretched who does not deserve to be so.
The objects of mercy, then, are those who are miserable, and all misery is
the result of sin, hence the miserable are deserving of punishment
not mercy. To speak of deserving mercy is a contradiction of terms.
God bestows His mercies
on whom He pleases and withholds them as seemeth good unto Himself. A
remarkable illustration of this fact is seen in the manner that God
responded to the prayers of two men offered under very similar
circumstances. Sentence of death was passed upon Moses for one act of
disobedience, and he besought the Lord for a reprieve. But was his desire
gratified? No; he told Israel, "The Lord is wroth with me for your
sakes, and would not hear me: and the Lord said unto me, Let it
suffice thee" (Deut. 3:26). Now mark the second case
those days was Hezekiah
sick unto death. And the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz came to him, and
said unto him, Thus saith the Lord, Set thine house in order; for thou shalt
die, and not live. Then he turned his face to the wall, and prayed unto the
Lord, saying, I beseech Thee, O Lord, remember now how I have walked before
Thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in
Thy sight. And Hezekiah wept sore. And it came to pass, afore Isaiah was
gone out into the middle court, that the word of the Lord came to him,
saying, Turn again, and tell Hezekiah the captain of my people, Thus saith
the Lord, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I
have seen thy tears: behold, I will heal thee: on the third day thou shalt
go up unto the house of the Lord. And I will add unto thy days fifteen
years" (2 Kings 20:1-6). Both of these men had the sentence of death in
themselves, and both prayed earnestly unto the Lord for a reprieve: the one
wrote: "The Lord would not hear me," and died; but to the other it
was said, "I have heard thy prayer", and his life was spared. What
an illustration and exemplification of the truth expressed in Romans 9:15!—"For
He saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I
will have compassion on whom I will have compassion."
The sovereign exercise
of God’s mercy—pity shown to the wretched—was displayed when Jehovah
became flesh and tabernacled among men. Take one illustration. During one of
the Feasts of the Jews, the Lord Jesus went up to Jerusalem. He came to the
Pool of Bethesda, where lay "a great multitude of impotent folk,
of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water." Among
this "great multitude" there was "a certain man which had an
infirmity thirty and eight years." What happened? "When Jesus saw hint lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto
him, Wilt thou be made whole? The impotent man answered Him, Sir, I have
no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am
coming, another steppeth down before me. Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up
thy bed, and walk. And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his
bed, and walked" (John 5:3-9). Why was this one man singled out from
all the others? We are not told that he cried "Lord, have mercy on
me." There is not a word in the narrative which intimates
that this man possessed any qualifications which entitled him to receive
special favor. Here then was a case of the sovereign exercise of Divine
mercy, for it was just as easy for Christ to heal the whole of that
"great multitude" as this one "certain man." But lie did
not. He put forth His power and relieved the wretchedness of this one
particular sufferer, and for some reason known only to Himself, He declined
to do the same for the others. Again, we say, what an illustration and
exemplification of Romans 9:15!—"I will have mercy on whom I will
have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion."
God is sovereign in the
exercise of His love. Ah! that is a hard saying,
who then can receive it? It is written, "A man can receive nothing,
except it be given him from heaven" (John 3:27). When we say
that God is sovereign in the exercise of His love, we mean that He loves
whom He chooses. God does not love everybody; if He did, He would love the
Devil. Why does not God love the Devil? Because there is nothing in him to
love; because there is nothing in him to attract the heart of
God. Nor is there anything to attract God’s love in any of the
fallen sons of Adam, for all of them are, by nature, "children
of wrath" (Eph. 2:3). If then there is nothing in
any member of the human race to attract God’s love, and if,
notwithstanding, He does love some, then it necessarily
follows that the cause of His love must be found in Himself, which is
only another way of saying that the exercise of God’s love towards the
fallen sons of men is according to His own good pleasure.
In the final analysis,
the exercise of God’s love must be traced back to His sovereignty,
or, otherwise, He would love by rule; and if He loved by rule, then
is He under a law of love, and if He is under a law of love
then is He not supreme, but is Himself ruled by law. "But,"
it may be asked, "Surely you do not deny that God loves the
entire human family?" We reply, it is written, "Jacob have I
loved, but Esau have I hated" (Rom. 9:13). If then God loved Jacob and
hated Esau, and that before they were born or had done either good or evil,
then the reason for His love was not in them, but in Himself.
That the exercise of
God’s love is according to His own sovereign pleasure is also clear
from the language of Ephesians 1:3-5, where we read, "Blessed be the
God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all
spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as He hath
chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy
and without blame before Him. In love having predestinated us unto
the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself according to the good
pleasure of His will." It was "in love" that
God the Father predestined His chosen ones unto the adoption of children by
Jesus Christ to Himself, "according"—according to what?
According to some excellency He discovered in them? No. What then?
According to what He foresaw they would become? No; mark carefully
the inspired answer—"According to the good pleasure of His will."
God is sovereign in the
exercise of His grace. This of necessity, for
grace is favor shown to the undeserving, yea, to the Hell-deserving.
Grace is the antithesis of justice. Justice demands the impartial
enforcement of law. Justice requires that each shall receive his legitimate
due, neither more nor less. Justice bestows no favors and is no respecter of
persons. Justice, as such, shows no pity and knows no mercy. But after
justice has been fully satisfied, grace flows forth. Divine grace is not
exercised at the expense of justice, but "grace reigns through
righteousness" (Rom. 5:21), and if grace "reigns", then
is grace sovereign.
Grace has been defined
as the unmerited favor of God; and if unmerited, then none can claim it as
their inalienable right. If grace is unearned and undeserved, then
none are entitled to it. If grace is a gift, then none can demand it.
Therefore, as salvation is by grace, the free gift of God, then He bestows
it on whom He pleases. Because salvation is by grace, the very chief of
sinners is not beyond the reach of Divine mercy. Because salvation is by
grace, boasting is excluded and God gets all the glory.
The sovereign exercise
of grace is illustrated on nearly every page of Scripture. The Gentiles are
left to walk in their own ways, while Israel becomes the covenant people of
Jehovah. Ishmael the firstborn is cast out comparatively unblessed, while
Isaac the son of his parents’ old age is made the child of promise. Esau
the generous-hearted and forgiving-spirited is denied the blessing, though
he sought it carefully with tears, while the worm Jacob receives the
inheritance and is fashioned into a vessel of honor. So in the New
Testament. Divine truth is hidden from the wise and prudent, but is revealed
to babes. The Pharisees and Sadducees are left to go their own way, while
publicans and harlots are drawn by the cords of love.
In a remarkable manner
Divine grace was exercised at the time of the Saviour’s birth. The
incarnation of God’s Son was one of the greatest events in the history of
the universe, and yet its actual occurrence was not made known to all
mankind; instead, it was specially revealed to the Bethlehem shepherds and
wise men of the East. And this was prophetic and indicative of the entire
course of this dispensation, for even today Christ is not made known to all.
It would have been an easy matter f or God to have sent a company of angels
to every nation and announced the birth of His Son. But He did not.
God could have readily attracted the attention of all mankind to the
"star;" but He did not. Why? Because God is sovereign and
dispenses His favors as He pleases. Note particularly the two classes to
whom the birth of the Saviour was made known, namely, the most unlikely classes—illiterate shepherds and heathen from a far country. No angel
stood before the Sanhedrin and announced the advent of Israel’s Messiah!
No "star" appeared unto the scribes and lawyers as they, in their
pride and self-righteousness, searched the Scriptures! They searched
diligently to find out where He should be born, and yet it was not made
known to them when He was actually come. What a display of Divine
sovereignty—the illiterate shepherds singled out for peculiar honor, and
the learned and eminent passed by! And why was the birth of the Saviour
revealed to these foreigners, and not to those in whose midst He was born?
See in this a wonderful foreshadowing of God’s dealings with our race
throughout the entire Christian dispensation—sovereign in the exercise of
His grace, bestowing His favors on whom He pleases, often on the most
unlikely and unworthy.
years ago an evangelical (?) preacher of nation-wide reputation visited
the town in which we then were, and during the course of his address kept
repeating, “Poor God! Poor God!” Surely it is this “preacher” who
needs to be pitied.
3:16 will be examined in Appendix III.
are not unmindful of the fact that men have invented the distinction between
God’s love of complacency and
His love of compassion, but this is an invention pure and simple. Scripture terms the latter God’s “pity” (see Matt. 18:33), and “He is kind unto the unthankful and the evil” (Luke 6:35).
esteemed friend who kindly read through this book in its manuscript form,
and to whom we are indebted for a number of excellent suggestions, has
pointed out that, grace is something more than “unmerited favor.” To
feed a tramp who calls on me is “unmerited favor,” but it is scarcely grace. But suppose that after robbing me
I should feed this starving tramp—that would be “grace.” Grace, then,
is favor shown where there is positive de-merit in the one receiving it.
has been pointed out to us that God’s sovereignty was signally displayed
in His choice of the place where
His Son was born. Not to Greece or Italy did the Lord of Glory come, but to
the insignificant land of Palestine! Not in Jerusalem—the royal city—was
Immanuel born, but in Bethlehem, which was “little among the thousands (of towns and villages) in Judah” (Micah 5:2)! And
it was in despised Nazareth that
He grew up!! Truly, God’s ways are not ours.