The Sovereignty of God
by Rev. Gise J. Van Baren
Many people in our day deny God and His control over all things. These insist upon walking in their ignorance -- for they refuse any testimony from the Bible. Many Christians, however, also appear to be unsure of the extent of the power and control of God. They are willing to concede that God tries to save sinners -- but they are not certain whether God can really and fully accomplish His purpose. They agree that God sends all good things -- but are loath to maintain that God sends wars and sickness. They are ready to say that God guides good men -- but hesitate to confess that wicked men are also under His direction and control.
One of the truths which has been historically and emphatically confessed by Reformed, Calvinistic churches is that of the Sovereignty of our God. Sovereignty refers to absolute, total rule and control over all things, a rule which God alone possesses. God's Sovereignty is not limited. Nor is it given to Him. But it is without limit, and it is God's personal right. God is not the Ruler of some sort of democracy in which He rules by the will of the people. His rule and authority belong exclusively to Himself -- and God fully exercises this rule in His creation. He is the Sovereign One. Nothing and no one escapes His rule.
This is a vital truth. Without it, or in distorting it, one cannot but propose doctrines or beliefs contrary to God's Word. Consider this once in the light of what the Bible itself teaches.
First of all, the Sovereignty of God includes the fact that He has formed by His powerful Word the whole of the universe -- and He preserves its existence. This fact staggers the imagination! The universe itself is so vast that man knows not how to describe its beginning or its end. The number of stars is so large as to be uncountable. The energy expended by all these heavenly bodies in the universe can not be measured by man. There are those who claim to be ignorant concerning the origin of this universe. Some suggest that perhaps it is eternal. But the Bible tells us simply, "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth" (Gen. 1:1).And Hebrews 11:3 states, "Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the Word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear." Imagine! God created the vast universe -- and He Himself is far above it, nor is He limited by it. So also did Solomon pray in dedicating the temple at Jerusalem, "But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens can not contain thee; how much less this house that I have builded?" (I Kings 8:27).
But the Sovereignty of God is not limited to the formation of all things by His powerful Word. He is Sovereign in that He directs and governs all things that take place. God places the sea within its bounds: Job 38:8, "Or who shut up the sea with doors, when it brake forth, as if it had issued out of the womb?" Or again, He causes the rain to fall and the grass to grow, "Who covereth the heaven with clouds, who prepareth rain for the earth, who maketh grass to grow upon the mountains" (Psalm 147:8).Striking, is it not, that the Sovereign God causes each drop of rain to fall where He wills; He causes each flake of snow to descent according to His good-pleasure. This is not the extent of His power, however, God's power extends over the birds of the heavens and even over the hairs which fall from one's head. Jesus said, "Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered" (Matt. 10:29-30).
But still more amazing, though disputed by many, is the fact that God's power directs wars, pestilence, disease, and winds which come upon the earth. Not only does He as God send peace, but He also causes war. He not only gives health, but He also sends sickness and death. God says in Isaiah 45:7, "I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace and create evil; I the Lord do all these things." Again we read in Psalm 46:8, "Come, behold the works of the Lord, what desolations he hath made in the earth." When Christians, then, hear of or encounter the terrible hurricanes or tornadoes, when they behold the destruction of disease, when they see the devastation of wars -- let them confess: "The hand of the Lord directs all these things!"
There is a yet more amazing wonder in this fact of God's Sovereignty. He rule extends even over evil men -- yes, and over the devil himself. Many deny this. It is often suggested that God influences and directs good men -- but that evil men and the devil are minor forces outside of the rule of God. It is conceded that God can frustrate the evil designs of these forces of darkness, but the claim is that these are nevertheless independent forces. If this view were correct, there would be a serious limit to or abridgment of the Sovereignty of God. Fact is, however, that God is also sovereign with respect to wicked men. They cannot lift up one little finger, they cannot perform one evil act, but that this is under the absolute control of God.
That this is true can also be shown clearly from Scripture. We read in Exodus, chapters 3 and 4, that Moses, who earlier had fled from Egypt, was caring for the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro. This had been his occupation during the past 40 years. Suddenly, God changed the life of Moses. God met him at the burning, but unconsumed, bush in the wilderness, and instructed him to go to Pharaoh with the command to let God's people go. But then God told Moses, "When thou goest to return into Egypt, see that thou do all these wonders before Pharaoh which I have put in thy hand; but I will harden his heart that he shall not let the people go." It is not true that Pharaoh first hardened his heart -- and then God further hardened it. Before Pharaoh was even aware of the existence of Moses, God emphasizes: "I will harden Pharaoh's heart" (Exodus 4:21).As a result of this act of God, Pharaoh hardens his heart. Though God hardened Pharaoh's heart, yet Pharaoh himself is held responsible and is terribly punished, through the ten plagues, for his sin.
And why should God harden Pharaoh's heart? The apostle Paul answers with the words of Romans 9:17, "For the Scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might show my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth."
Other instances are mentioned in Scripture. There is the account of I Kings 22, where Ahab sought advice through his false prophets concerning his plan to fight against Syria. These false prophets unanimously urged him to go to battle -- with the assurance of victory. But then Ahab called God's prophet Micaiah. Micaiah explained to Ahab that it was God Who placed a lying spirit in the mouths of Ahab's false prophets -- in order to lead Ahab to his destruction in this battle. God was Sovereign even over those false prophets.
But there is more too, for even the devil himself is under the direct control of God. Possibly the clearest evidence of this is found in the book of Job. In the first chapter we read that Satan appeared before God. God reminded Satan of Job who was "a perfect and upright man, one that feareth God and escheweth evil." "Ah," says Satan, "but does Job serve God for nothing? Touch what he has and he shall curse thee." God then tells Satan in verse 12, "Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand." Thus did God give Satan specific but limited power to carry out the evil design of trying to cause Job to curse God.
But there is a yet more wonderful, amazing evidence of the Sovereignty of God revealed in Scripture. This Almighty God, through His own power alone, saves His people from sin and death and brings them to heavenly glory. Many mistaken preachers will claim that Jesus stands outside the sinner's heart and insistently knocks upon the door. The decisive action leading unto salvation must be taken by man. But that is not the presentation of Scripture. In Jeremiah 31:18, 19 we read, "Turn thou me, and I shall be turned; for thou art the Lord my God. Surely after that I was turned, I repented; and after that I was instructed, I smote upon my thigh; I was ashamed, yea, even confounded, but I did bear the reproach of my youth." And we read concerning the preaching of the missionaries Paul and Barnabas, "And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the Word of the Lord; and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed" (Acts 13:48).And on another missionary journey, Paul spoke to women worshipping at a riverside near Philippi. One of these women, Lydia, believed. Concerning her, we read, "Whose heart the Lord opened that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul" (Acts 16:14).
Further, it was the Sovereignty of God which was evident at the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. When one views what happened at the cross, one might be inclined to suggest that matters had gotten out of hand. It almost seemed as though God had lost control. It appeared as though Satan was about to have the victory. Yet that is exactly what did not happen. God had all things under control at the cross. What took place, took place in harmony with His grand purpose. So also did Peter explain to the audience at Pentecost when he told them, "Jesus, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken and by wicked hands have crucified and slain" (Acts 2:23). God had determined that the cross must come -- but wicked men took and crucified the Christ. Thus did God use the evil action of wicked men to accomplish His glorious purpose.
It is also this same sovereign, almighty power of God whereby He preserves His people in the salvation He gives unto them. We read in Philippians 1:6, "Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ."
The Sovereign God has revealed His absolute control over all things in saving a people from sin and bringing them to heaven with all of its glories.
Is it important that the faithful Christian maintain this Scriptural presentation of God's Sovereignty? Most definitely! The very reason that the whole of the universe exists is that God's Name might be highly exalted. All that has taken place, all that shall yet occur, must serve the purpose of glorifying God. No one or nothing may attempt to take away from the Sovereignty of our God.
It is the characteristic mark of all heresy that the truth of God's Sovereignty is compromised. Man would introduce that which exalts man, that which exalts man's power or ability, that which claims that man has a certain ability to earn or merit something of God. Or man deliberately attempts to detract from God's absolute rule by suggesting that others, outside of God, possess an independent power.
But it is the mark of a faithful Christian and of the true church that these believe and confess the Scriptural truth of the absolute Sovereignty of God. All doctrine, every confession, must be founded upon the truth of God's Sovereignty. Whatever detracts in any way from this truth must be rejected. True doctrine must follow out of and reveal the truth that God is the Sovereign One.
The Christian must live and walk in the consciousness of this truth too. All too often one would think of himself as independent -- free from the power and authority of God. He does not seek God's face in prayer as he ought. He does not support the cause of God's kingdom as a faithful child of God is called to do. He finds pleasure in this world with all of its lusts. Such an one lives as though God is not the Sovereign One.
What a wonderful truth is this confession of God's Sovereignty! My God is He Who hears and can answer my prayer. My God directs all things for my good (Rom. 8:28).Because my God is absolutely sovereign, there are no real accidents which befall me. And I shall surely dwell in the house of the Lord forever -- my Sovereign God sees to this through His Son Jesus Christ.
What comfort, what assurance, it is for the Christian to know and confess God's Sovereignty. There is nothing, then, that can ever separate me from the love of God. "For," says God's Word, "I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:38-39).That is true because God is the sovereign God. Thank God that He is!
Rev. Gise J. Van Baren
For further study
The five points of Calvinism ought to be a matter of serious study for everyone as one's own spiritual welfare is at issue and the truth of the gospel of grace in Christ.
The original statement of the five points of Calvinism are found in the Canons of Dordt. In studying the Canons it is important to keep in mind that the Canons of Dordt assume one holds the Heidelberg Catechism and the Confession of Faith which also teach the same doctrine. What these Reformed creeds state concerning grace, election, the atonement, faith and conversion, the church, as well as infant baptism (including what this same Synod said in the Baptism Form) should be kept in mind
The following material treats the five points or aspects of them.
Jesus himself had much to say on these issues and this is discussed in the section:
The link, Particular Grace, continues this subject by addressing issues and doctrinal corruptions of the doctrines of grace.
How the doctrine of the covenant is viewed has a direct relationship to this discussion, particularly how it is that God establishes His covenant in the line of the generations of believers with believers and their seed.
The doctrines of grace and the doctrine of the church are also intimately connected. The church is the organic realization of the gathering of God's elect into the household of faith.
For a systematic study of the doctrines of grace in the context of the whole of Reformed doctrine see also the online course on the Essentials of Reformed Doctrine