THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD (P01 of 05)
THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD (P01 of 05)
AW Pink (1886-1952)
Copyright: Public Domain
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FOREWORD TO THE FIRST EDITION
FOREWORD TO THE FIRST EDITION
In the following pages an attempt has been made to examine anew in the light of God’s Word some of the profoundest questions which can engage the human mind. Others have grappled with these mighty problems in days gone by and from their labours we are the gainers. While making no claim for originality the writer, nevertheless, has endeavoured to examine and deal with his subject from an entirely independent viewpoint. We have studied diligently the writings of such men as Augustine and Acquinas, Calvin and Melancthon, Jonathan Edwards and Ralph Erskine, Andrew Fuller and Robert Haldane1. And sad it is to think that these eminent and honoured names are almost entirely unknown to the present generation. Though, of course, we do not endorse all their conclusions, yet we gladly acknowledge our deep indebtedness to their works. We have purposely refrained from quoting freely from these deeply taught theologians, because we desired that the faith of our readers should stand not in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. For this reason we have quoted freely from the Scriptures and have sought to furnish proof-texts for every statement we have advanced.
It would be foolish for us to expect that this work will meet with general approval. The trend of modern theology—if theology it can be called—is ever toward the deification of the creature rather than the glorification of the Creator, and the leaven of present-day Rationalism is rapidly permeating the whole of Christendom. The malevolent effects of Darwinianism are more far reaching than most are aware. Many of those among our religious leaders who are still regarded as orthodox would, we fear, be found to be very heterodox if they were weighed in the balances of the Sanctuary. Even those who are clear intellectually, upon other truths, are rarely sound in doctrine. Few, very few, today, really believe in the complete ruin and total depravity of man. Those who speak of man’s “free will,” and insist upon his inherent power to either accept or reject the Saviour, do but voice their ignorance of the real condition of Adam’s fallen children. And if there are few who believe that, so far as he is concerned, the condition of the sinner is entirely hopeless, there are fewer still who really believe in the absolute Sovereignty of God.
In addition to the widespread effects of unscriptural teaching, we also have to reckon with the deplorable superficiality of the present generation. To announce that a certain book is a treatise on doctrine is quite sufficient to prejudice against it the great bulk of churchmembers and most of our preachers as well. The craving today is for something light and spicy, and few have patience, still less desire, to examine carefully that which would make a demand both upon their hearts and their mental powers. We remember, also, how that it is becoming increasingly difficult in these strenuous days for those who are desirous of studying the deeper things of God to find the time which such study requires. Yet, it is still true that “Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” and in spite of the discouraging features referred to, we believe there is even now a godly remnant who will take pleasure in giving this little work a careful consideration, and such will, we trust, find in it “Meat in due season.”
We do not forget the words of one long since passed away, namely, that “Denunciation is the last resort of a defeated opponent.” To dismiss this book with the contemptuous epithet—“Hyper-Calvinism!” will not be worthy of notice. For controversy we have no taste, and we shall not accept any challenge to enter the lists against those who might desire to debate the truths discussed in these pages. So far as our personal reputation is concerned, that we leave our Lord to take care of, and unto Him we would now commit this volume and whatever fruit it may bear, praying Him to use it for the enlightening of His own dear people (insofar as it is in accord with His Holy Word) and to pardon the writer for and preserve the reader from the injurious effects of any false teaching that may have crept into it. If the joy and comfort which have come to the author while penning these pages are shared by those who may scan them, then we shall be devoutly thankful to the One whose grace alone enables us to discern spiritual things.
1 Among those who have dealt most helpfully with the subject of God’s Sovereignty in recent years we mention Drs. Rice, J. B. Moody, and George S. Bishop, from whose writings we have also received instruction.
June 1918 Arthur W. Pink.
FOREWORD TO THE SECOND EDITION
It is now two years since the first edition of this work was presented to the Christian public. Its reception has been far more favourable than the author had expected. Many have notified him of the help and blessing received from a perusal of his attempts to expound what is admittedly a difficult subject. For every word of appreciation we return hearty thanks to Him in Whose light we alone “see light.” A few have condemned the book in unqualified terms, and these we commend to God and to the Word of His grace, remembering that it is written, “a man can receive nothing, except it be given him from Heaven” (John 3:27). Others have sent us friendly criticisms and these have been weighed carefully, and we trust that, in consequence, this revised edition will be unto those who are members of the household of faith more profitable than the former one.
One word of explanation seems to be called for. A number of respected brethren in Christ felt that our treatment of the Sovereignty of God was too extreme and one-sided. It has been pointed out that a fundamental requirement in expounding the Word of God is the need of preserving the balance of Truth. With this we are in hearty accord. Two things are beyond dispute: God is Sovereign, and man is a responsible creature. But in this book we are treating of the Sovereignty of God, and while the responsibility of man is readily owned, yet, we do not pause on every page to insist on it; instead, we have sought to stress that side of the Truth which in these days is almost universally neglected. Probably 95 per cent of the religious literature of the day is devoted to a setting forth of the duties and obligations of men. The fact is that those who undertake to expound the Responsibility of man are the very ones who have lost ‘the balance of Truth’ by ignoring, very largely, the Sovereignty of God. It is perfectly right to insist on the responsibility of man, but what of God?—has He no claims, no rights! A hundred such works as this are needed, ten thousand sermons would have to be preached throughout the land on this subject, if the ‘balance of Truth’ is to be regained. The ‘balance of Truth’ has been lost, lost through a disproportionate emphasis being thrown on the human side, to the minimising, if not the exclusion, of the Divine side. We grant that this book is one-sided, for it only pretends to deal with one side of the Truth and that is, the neglected side, the Divine side. Furthermore, the question might be raised: Which is the more to be deplored—an over emphasising of the human side and an insufficient emphasis on the Divine side, or, an over emphasising of the Divine side and an insufficient emphasis on the human side? Surely, if we err at all it is on the right side. Surely, there is far more danger of making too much of man and too little of God, than there is of making too much of God and too little of man. Yea, the question might well be asked, Can we press God’s claims too far? Can we be too extreme in insisting upon the absoluteness and universality of the Sovereignty of God?
It is with profound thankfulness to God that, after a further two years diligent study of Holy Writ, with the earnest desire to discover what almighty God has been pleased to reveal to His children on this subject, we are able to testify that we see no reason for making any retractions from what we wrote before, and while we have re-arranged the material of this work, the substance and doctrine of it remains unchanged. May the One Who condescended to bless the first edition of this work be pleased to own even more widely this revision.
ARTHUR W. PINK, 1921 SWENGEL, PA.
FOREWORD TO THE THIRD EDITION
That a third edition of this work is now called for, is a cause of fervent praise to God. As the darkness deepens and the pretensions of men are taking on an ever-increasing blatancy, the need becomes greater for the claims of God to be emphasised. As the twentieth century Babel of religious tongues is bewildering so many, the duty of God’s servants to point to the one sure anchorage for the heart, is the more apparent. Nothing is so tranquillising and so stabilising as the assurance that the Lord Himself is on the Throne of the universe, “working all things after the counsel of His own will.”
The Holy Spirit has told us that there are in the Scriptures some things hard to be understood,” but mark it is “hard” not “impossible!” A patient waiting on the Lord, a diligent comparison of Scripture with Scripture, often issues in a fuller apprehension of that which before was obscure to us. During the last ten years it has pleased God to grant us further light on certain parts of His Word, and this we have sought to use in improving our expositions of different passages. But it is with unfeigned thanksgiving that we find it unnecessary to either change or modify any doctrine contained in the former editions. Yea, as time goes by, we realise (by Divine grace) with ever-increasing force, the truth, the importance, and the value of the Sovereignty of God as it pertains to every branch of our lives.
Our hearts have been made to rejoice again and again by unsolicited letters which have come to hand from every quarter of the earth, telling of help and blessing received from the former editions of this work. One Christian friend was so stirred by reading it and so impressed by its testimony, that a check was sent to be used in sending free copies to missionaries in fifty foreign countries, “that its glorious message may encircle the globe”; numbers of whom have written us to say how much they have been strengthened in their fight with the powers of darkness. To God alone belongs all the glory. May He deign to use this third edition to the honour of His own great Name, and to the feeding of His scattered and starved sheep.
Morton’s Gap, A. W. P. Kentucky 1929
FOREWORD TO THE FOURTH EDITION
FOREWORD TO THE FOURTH EDITION
It is with profound praise to “God most high” that another edition of this valuable and helpful book is now called for. Though its teaching runs directly counter to that which is being promulgated on every hand today, yet we are happy to be able to say that its circulation is increasing to the strengthening of the faith, comfort and hope of an increasing number of God’s elect. We commit this new edition to Him whom we “delight to honour,” praying that He may be pleased to bless its circulation to the enlightening of many more of His own, to the “praise of the glory of His grace,” and a clearer apprehension of the majesty of God and His Sovereign mercy.
I. C. HERENDEEN. 1949.
Who is regulating affairs on this earth today—God, or the Devil? That God reigns supreme in Heaven is generally conceded; that He does so over this world, is almost universally denied—if not directly, then indirectly. More and more are men in their philosophising and theorising relegating God to the background. Take the material realm. Not only is it denied that God created everything by personal and direct action, but few believe that He has any immediate concern in regulating the works of His own hands. Everything is supposed to be ordered according to the (impersonal and abstract) “laws of Nature.” Thus is the Creator banished from His own creation. Therefore we need not be surprised that men, in their degrading conceptions, exclude Him from the realm of human affairs. Throughout Christendom, with an almost negligible exception, the theory is held that man is “a free agent,” and therefore, lord of his fortunes and the determiner of his destiny. That Satan is to be blamed for much of the evil which is in the world is freely affirmed by those who, though having so much to say about “the responsibility of man,” often deny their own responsibility, by attributing to the Devil what, in fact, proceeds from their own evil hearts (Mark 7:21-23).
But who is regulating affairs on this earth today—God, or the Devil? Attempt to take a serious and comprehensive view of the world. What a scene of confusion and chaos confronts us on every side! Sin is rampant; lawlessness abounds; evil men and seducers are waxing “worse and worse” (2 Tim. 3:13). Today, everything appears to be out of joint. Thrones are creaking and tottering, ancient dynasties are being overturned, democracies are revolting, civilisation is a demonstrated failure; half of Christendom was but recently locked together in a death grapple; and now that the titanic conflict is over, instead of the world having been made “safe for democracy,” we have discovered that democracy is very unsafe for the world. Unrest, discontent, and lawlessness are rife everywhere, and none can say how soon another great war will be set in motion. Statesmen are perplexed and staggered. Men’s hearts are “failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth” (Luke 21:26). Do these things look as though God had full control?
But let us confine our attention to the religious realm. After nineteen centuries of Gospel preaching, Christ is still “despised and rejected of men.” Worse still, He (the Christ of Scripture) is proclaimed and magnified by very few. In the majority of modern pulpits He is dishonoured and disowned. Despite frantic efforts to attract the crowds, the majority of the churches are being emptied rather than filled. And what of the great masses of nonchurch goers? In the light of Scripture we are compelled to believe that the “many” are on the Broad Road that leadeth to destruction, and that only “few” are on the Narrow Way that leadeth unto life. Many are declaring that Christianity is a failure, and despair is settling on many faces. Not a few of the Lord’s own people are bewildered, and their faith is being severely tried. And what of God? Does He see and hear? Is He impotent or indifferent? A number of those who are regarded as leaders of Christian thought told us that God could not help the coming of the late awful War, and that He was unable to bring about its termination. It was said, and said openly, that conditions were beyond God’s control. Do these things look as though God were ruling the world?
Who is regulating affairs on this earth today—God, or the Devil? What impression is made upon the minds of those men of the world who, occasionally, attend a Gospel service? What are the conceptions formed by those who hear even those preachers who are counted as “orthodox?” Is it not that a disappointed God is the One whom Christians believe in? From what is heard from the average evangelist today, is not any serious hearer obliged to conclude that he professes to represent a God who is filled with benevolent intentions, yet unable to carry them out; that He is earnestly desirous of blessing men, but that they will not let Him? Then, must not the average hearer draw the inference that the Devil has gained the upper hand, and that God is to be pitied rather than blamed?
But does not everything seem to show that the Devil has far more to do with the affairs of earth than God has? Ah, it all depends upon whether we are walking by faith, or walking by sight. Are your thoughts, my reader, concerning this world and God’s relation to it, based upon what you see? Face this question seriously and honestly. And if you are a Christian you will, most probably, have cause to bow your head with shame and sorrow, and to acknowledge that it is so. Alas, in reality, we walk very little “by faith.” But what does “walking by faith” signify? It means that our thoughts are formed, our actions regulated, our lives moulded by the Holy Scriptures, for, “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Rom. 10:17). It is from the Word of Truth, and that alone, that we can learn what is God’s relation to this world.
Who is regulating affairs on this earth today—God or the Devil? What saith the Scriptures? Ere we consider the direct reply to this query, let it be said that the Scriptures predicted just what we now see and hear. The prophecy of Jude is in course of fulfilment. It would lead us too far astray from our present inquiry to fully amplify this assertion, but what we have particularly in mind is a sentence in verse 8—”Likewise also these filthy dreamers defile the flesh, despise dominion and speak evil of dignities.” Yes, they “speak evil” of the Supreme Dignity, the “Only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords.” Ours is peculiarly an age of irreverence, and as the consequence, the spirit of lawlessness, which brooks no restraint and which is desirous of casting off everything which interferes with the free course of selfwill, is rapidly engulfing the earth like some giant tidal wave. The members of the rising generation are the most flagrant offenders, and in the decay and disappearing of parental authority we have the certain precursor of the abolition of civic authority. Therefore, in view of the growing disrespect for human law and the refusal to “render honour to whom honour is due,” we need not be surprised that the recognition of the majesty, the authority, the Sovereignty of the Almighty law-giver should recede more and more into the background, and the masses have less and less patience with those who insist upon them. And conditions will not improve; instead, the more sure Word of Prophecy makes known to us that they will grow worse and worse. Nor do we expect to be able to stem the tide—it has already risen much too high for that. All we can now hope to do is warn our fellow-saints against the spirit of the age, and thus seek to counteract its baneful influence upon them.
Who is regulating affairs on this earth today—God, or the Devil? What saith the Scriptures? If we believe their plain and positive declarations, no room is left for uncertainty. They affirm, again and again, that God is on the throne of the universe; that the sceptre is in His hands; that He is directing all things “after the counsel of His own will.” They affirm, not only that God created all things, but also that God is ruling and reigning over all the works of His hands. They affirm that God is the “Almighty,” that His will is irreversible, that He is absolute Sovereign in every realm of all His vast dominions. And surely it must be so. Only two alternatives are possible: God must either rule, or be ruled; sway, or be swayed; accomplish His own will, or be thwarted by His creatures. Accepting the fact that He is the “Most High,” the only Potentate and King of kings, vested with perfect wisdom and illimitable power, and the conclusion is irresistible that He must be God in fact as well as in name.
It is in view of what we have briefly referred to above that we say, Present-day conditions call loudly for a new examination and new presentation of God’s omnipotency, God’s sufficiency, God’s Sovereignty. From every pulpit in the land it needs to be thundered forth that God still lives, that God still observes, that God still reigns. Faith is now in the crucible, it is being tested by fire, and there is no fixed and sufficient resting-place for the heart and mind but in the Throne of God. What is needed now, as never before, is a full, positive, constructive setting forth of the Godhood of God. Drastic diseases call for drastic remedies. People are weary of platitudes and mere generalisations—the call is for something definite and specific. Soothing-syrup may serve for peevish children, but an iron tonic is better suited for adults, and we know of nothing which is more calculated to infuse spiritual vigour into our frames than a scriptural apprehension of the full character of God. It is written, “The people that do know their God shall be strong and do exploits” (Dan. 11:32).
Without a doubt a world-crisis is at hand, and everywhere men are alarmed. But God is not! He is never taken by surprise. It is no unexpected emergency which now confronts Him, for He is the One who “worketh all things after the counsel of His own will” (Eph. 1:11). Hence, though the world is panic-stricken, the word to the believer is, “Fear not!” “All things” are subject to His immediate control: “all things” are moving in accord with His eternal purpose, and therefore “all things” are “working together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.” It must be so, for “of Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things” (Rom. 11:36). Yet how little is this realised today even by the people of God! Many suppose that He is little more than a far-distant Spectator, taking no immediate hand in the affairs of earth. It is true that man is endowed with power, but God is all-powerful. It is true that, speaking generally, the material world is regulated by law, but behind that law is the law-Giver and law-Administrator. Man is but the creature. God is the Creator, and endless ages before man first saw the light “the mighty God” (Isa. 9:6) existed, and ere the world was founded, made His plans; and being infinite in power and man only finite, His purpose and plan cannot be withstood or thwarted by the creatures of His own hands.
We readily acknowledge that life is a profound problem, and that we are surrounded by mystery on every side; but we are not like the beasts of the field—ignorant of their origin, and unconscious of what is before them. No: “We have also a more sure Word of Prophecy,” of which it is said ye do well that ye “take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19). And it is to this Word of Prophecy we indeed do well to “take heed,” to that Word which had not its origin in the mind of man but in the Mind of God, for, “the prophecy came not at any time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake moved by the Holy Spirit.” We say again, it is to this “Word” we do well to take heed. As we turn to this Word and are instructed thereout, we discover a fundamental principle which must be applied to every problem: Instead of beginning with man and his world and working back to God, we must begin with God and work down to man—”In the beginning God!” Apply this principle to the present situation. Begin with the world as it is today and try and work back to God, and everything will seem to show that God has no connection with the world at all. But begin with God and work down to the world, and light, much light, is cast on the problem. Because God is holy His anger burns against sin; because God is righteous His judgements fall upon those who rebel against Him; because God is faithful the solemn threatenings of His Word are fulfilled; because God is omnipotent none can successfully resist Him, still less overthrow His counsel; and because God is omniscient no problem can master Him and no difficulty baffle His wisdom. It is just because God is who He is and what He is that we are now beholding on earth what we do—the beginning of His outpoured judgements: in view of His inflexible justice and immaculate holiness we could not expect anything other than what is now spread before our eyes.
But let it be said very emphatically that the heart can only rest upon and enjoy the blessed truth of the absolute Sovereignty of God as faith is in exercise. Faith is ever occupied with God. That is the character of it; that is what differentiates it from intellectual theology. Faith endures “as seeing Him who is invisible” (Heb. 11:27): endures the disappointments, the hardships, and the heartaches of life by recognising that all comes from the hand of Him who is too wise to err and too loving to be unkind. But so long as we are occupied with any other object than God Himself there will be neither rest for the heart nor peace for the mind. But when we receive all that enters our lives as from His hand, then, no matter what may be our circumstances or surroundings—whether in a hovel, a prison-dungeon, or a martyr’s stake—we shall be enabled to say, “The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places” (Psa. 16:6). But that is the language of faith, not of sight or of sense.
But if instead of bowing to the testimony of Holy Writ, if instead of walking by faith, we follow the evidence of our eyes, and reason therefrom, we shall fall into a quagmire of virtual atheism. Or, if we are regulated by the opinions and views of others, peace will be at an end. Granted that there is much in this world of sin and suffering which appalls and saddens us; granted that there is much in the providential dealings of God which startle and stagger us; that is no reason why we should unite with the unbelieving worldling who says, “If I were God, I would not allow this or tolerate that,” etc. Better far, in the presence of bewildering mystery, to say with one of old, “I was dumb, I opened not my mouth: because Thou didst it” (Psa. 39:9). Scripture tells us that God’s judgements are “unsearchable,” and His ways “past finding out” (Rom. 11:33). It must be so if faith is to be tested, confidence in His wisdom and righteousness strengthened, and submission to His holy will fostered.
Here is the fundamental difference between the man of faith and the man of unbelief. The unbeliever is “of the world,” judges everything by worldly standards, views life from the standpoint of time and sense, and weighs everything in the balances of his own carnal making. But the man of faith brings in God, looks at everything from His standpoint, estimates values by spiritual standards, and views life in the light of eternity. Doing this, he receives whatever comes as from the hand of God. Doing this, his heart is calm in the midst of the storm. Doing this, he “rejoices in hope of the glory of God.”
In these opening paragraphs we have indicated the lines of thought followed out in this book. Our first postulate is, that because God is God He does as He pleases, only as He pleases, always as He pleases; that His great concern is the accomplishment of His own pleasure and the promotion of His own glory; that He is the Supreme Being, and therefore Sovereign of the universe. Starting with this postulate we have contemplated the exercise of God’s Sovereignty, first in Creation, second in Governmental Administration over the works of His hands, third in the Salvation of His own elect, fourth in the Reprobation of the wicked, and fifth in Operation upon and within men. Next we have viewed the Sovereignty of God as it relates to the human Will in particular and human Responsibility in general, and have sought to show what is the only becoming attitude for the creature to take in view of the majesty of the Creator. A separate chapter has been set apart for a consideration of some of the difficulties which are involved, and to answering the questions which are likely to be raised in the minds of our readers; while one chapter has been devoted to a more careful yet brief examination of God’s Sovereignty in relation to prayer. Finally, we have sought to show that the Sovereignty of God is a truth revealed to us in Scripture for the comfort of our hearts, the strengthening of our souls, and the blessing of our lives. A due apprehension of God’s Sovereignty promotes the spirit of worship, provides an incentive to practical godliness, and inspires zeal in service. It is deeply humbling to the human heart, but in proportion to the degree that it brings man into the dust before his Maker, to that extent is God glorified.
We are well aware that what we have written is in open opposition to much of the teaching that is current both in religious literature and in the representative pulpits of the land. We freely grant that the postulate of God’s Sovereignty with all its corollaries is at direct variance with the opinions and thoughts of the natural man, but the truth is, we are quite unable to think upon these matters: we are incompetent for forming a proper estimate of God’s character and ways, and it is because of this that God has given us a revelation of His mind, and in that revelation He plainly declares, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:8, 9). In view of this Scripture, it is only to be expected that much of the contents of the Bible conflicts with the sentiments of the carnal mind, which is enmity against God. Our appeal then is not to the popular beliefs of the day, nor to the creeds of the churches, but to the Law and Testimony of Jehovah. All that we ask for is an impartial and attentive examination of what we have written, and that made prayerfully in the light of the Lamp of Truth. May the reader heed the Divine admonition to “prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:21).
GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY DEFINED
“Thine, O 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 Chron. 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 understood.
The Sovereignty of God. What do we mean by this expression? 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? (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 (Psa. 115:3). To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is “The Governor among the nations” (Psa. 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 maudlin sentimentality. The God of many a present-day pulpit is an object of pity rather than of awe-inspiring reverence.2 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 fellowmen 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 bounds 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” (Psa. 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 mold that clay into whatsoever form He chooses, fashioning out of the same lump one vessel unto honour and another unto dishonour. 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.
Sovereignty characterises 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?
2 Some 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.
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” (Exo. 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 was 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: “In 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 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 him He, 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 answer Him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but when 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 favour. 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 He 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;3 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.4
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 favour 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 favours 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.
3 John 3:16 will be examined later.
4 We 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)!
Grace has been defined as the unmerited favour of God;5 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 unblest, 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 honour. 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 for God to have sent a company of angels to every nation and to have 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 favours 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 honour, 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 favours on whom He pleases, often on the most unlikely and unworthy.6
5 An 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 favour.” To feed a tramp who calls on me is “unmerited favour,” but it is scarcely grace. But suppose that after robbing me I should feed this starving tramp—that would be “grace.” Grace, then, is favour shown where there is positive de-merit in the one receiving it.
6 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.
THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD IN CREATION
“Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory, and honour, and power: for Thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are and were created” (Rev. 4:11).
Having shown that Sovereignty characterises the whole Being of God, let us now observe how it marks all His ways and dealings.
In the great expanse of eternity which stretches behind Genesis 1:1, the universe was unborn and creation existed only in the mind of the great Creator. In His Sovereign majesty God dwelt all alone. We refer to that far distant period before the heavens and the earth were created. There were then no angels to hymn God’s praises, no creatures to occupy His notice, no rebels to be brought into subjection. The great God was all alone amid the awful Silence of His own vast universe. But even at that time, if time it could be called, God was Sovereign. He might create or not create according to His own good pleasure. He might create this way or that way; He might create one world or one million worlds, and who was there to resist His will? He might call into existence a million different creatures and place them on absolute equality, endowing them with the same faculties and placing them in the same environment; or, He might create a million creatures each differing from the others, and possessing nothing in common save their creaturehood, and who was there to challenge His right? If He so pleased, He might call into existence a world so immense that its dimensions were utterly beyond finite computation; and were He so disposed, He might create an organism so small that nothing but the most powerful microscope could reveal its existence to human eyes. It was His Sovereign right to create, on the one hand, the exalted seraphim to burn around His throne, and on the other hand, the tiny insect which dies the same hour that it is born. If the mighty God chose to have one vast gradation in His universe, from loftiest seraph to creeping reptile, from revolving worlds to floating atoms, from macrocosm to microcosm, instead of making everything uniform, who was there to question His Sovereign pleasure?
Behold then the exercise of Divine Sovereignty long before man ever saw the light. With whom took God counsel in the creation and disposition of His creatures? See the birds as they fly through the air, the beasts as they roam the earth, the fishes as they swim in the sea, and then ask, Who was it that made them to differ? Was it not their Creator who Sovereignly assigned their various locations and adaptations to them!
Turn your eye to the heavens and observe the mysteries of Divine Sovereignty which there confront the thoughtful beholder: “There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory” (1 Cor. 15:41). But why should they? Why should the sun be more glorious than all the other planets? Why should there be stars of the first magnitude and others of the tenth? Why such amazing inequalities? Why should some of the heavenly bodies be more favourably placed than others in their relation to the sun? And why should there be “shooting stars,” falling stars, “wandering stars” (Jude 13), in a word, ruined stars? And the only possible answer is, “For Thy pleasure they are and were created” (Rev. 4:11).
Come now to our own planet. Why should two thirds of its surface be covered with water, and why should so much of its remaining third be unfit for human cultivation or habitation? Why should there be vast stretches of marshes, deserts and ice-fields? Why should one country be so inferior, topographically, from another? Why should one be fertile, and another almost barren? Why should one be rich in minerals and another own none? Why should the climate of one be congenial and healthy, and another uncongenial and unhealthy? Why should one abound in rivers and lakes, and another be almost devoid of them? Why should one be constantly troubled with earthquakes, and another be almost entirely free from then? Why? Because thus it pleased the Creator and Upholder of all things.
Look at the animal kingdom and note the wondrous variety. What comparison is possible between the lion and the lamb, the bear and the kid, the elephant and the mouse? Some, like the horse and the dog, are gifted with great intelligence; while others, like sheep and swine, are almost devoid of it. Why? Some are designed to be beasts of burden, while others enjoy a life of freedom. But why should the mule and the donkey be shackled to a life of drudgery while the lion and tiger are allowed to roam the jungle at their pleasure? Some are fit for food, others unfit; some are beautiful, others ugly; some are endowed with great strength, others are quite helpless; some are fleet of foot, others can scarcely crawl—contrast the hare and the tortoise; some are of use to man, others appear to be quite valueless; some live for centuries, others a few months at most; some are tame, others fierce. But why all these variations and differences? What is true of the animals is equally true of the birds and fishes.
But consider now the vegetable kingdom. Why should roses have thorns, and lilies grow without them? Why should one flower emit a fragrant aroma and another have none? Why should one tree bear fruit which is wholesome and another that which is poisonous? Why should one vegetable be capable of enduring frost and another wither under it? Why should one apple tree be loaded with fruit, and another tree of the same age and in the same orchard be almost barren? Why should one plant flower a dozen times in a year and another bear blossoms but once a century? Truly, “whatsoever the LORD pleased, that did He in Heaven, and in the earth, in the seas, and all deep places” (Psa. 135:6).
Consider the angelic hosts. Surely we shall find uniformity here. But no; there, as elsewhere, the same Sovereign pleasure of the Creator is displayed. Some are higher in rank than others; some are more powerful than others; some are nearer to God than others. Scripture reveals a definite and well-defined gradation in the angelic orders. From arch angel, past seraphim and cherubim, we come to “principalities and powers” (Eph. 3:10), and from principalities and powers to “rulers” (Eph. 6:12), and then to the angels themselves, and even among them we read of “the elect angels” (1 Tim. 5:21). Again we ask, Why this inequality, this difference in rank and order? And all we can say is “Our God is in the heavens, He hath done whatsoever He hath pleased” (Psa. 115:3).
If then we see the Sovereignty of God displayed throughout all creation, why should it be thought a strange thing if we behold it operating in the midst of the human family? Why should it be thought strange if to one God is pleased to give five talents and to another only one? Why should it be thought strange if one is born with a robust constitution and another of the same parents is frail and sickly? Why should it be thought strange if Abel is cut off in his prime, while Cain is suffered to live on for many years? Why should it be thought strange that some should be born black and others white; some be born idiots and others with high intellectual endowments; some be born constitutionally lethargic and others full of energy; some be born with a temperament that is selfish, fiery, egotistical, others who are naturally self-sacrificing, submissive and meek? Why should it be thought strange if some are qualified by nature to lead and rule, while others are only fitted to follow and serve? Heredity and environment cannot account for all these variations and inequalities. No; it is God who maketh one to differ from another. Why should He? “Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Thy sight” must be our reply.
Learn then this basic truth, that the Creator is absolute Sovereign, executing His own will, performing His own pleasure, and considering nought but His own glory. “The LORD hath made all things FOR HIMSELF” (Prov. 16:4). And had He not a perfect right to? Since God is God, who dare challenge His prerogative? To murmur against Him is rank rebellion. To question His ways is to impugn His wisdom. To criticise Him is sin of the deepest dye. Have we forgotten who He is? Behold, “All nations before Him as are nothing; and they are counted to Him less than nothing, and vanity. To whom then will ye liken God?” (Isa. 40:17, 18).
SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD IN ADMINISTRATION
“The LORD hath prepared His Throne In the heavens; and His Kingdom ruleth over all” (Psa. 103:19).
First, a word concerning the need for God to govern the material world. Suppose the opposite for a moment. For the sake of argument, let us say that God created the world, designed and fixed certain laws (which men term “the laws of Nature”), and that He then withdrew, leaving the world to its fortune and the out-working of these laws. In such a case, we should have a world over which there was no intelligent, presiding Governor, a world controlled by nothing more than impersonal laws—a concept worthy of gross Materialism and blank Atheism. But, I say, suppose it for a moment; and in the light of such a supposition weigh well the following question: What guaranty have we that some day ere long the world will not be destroyed? A very superficial observation of ‘the laws of Nature’ reveals the fact that they are not uniform in their working. The proof of this is seen in the fact that no two seasons are alike. If then Nature’s laws are irregular in their operations, what guaranty have we against some dreadful catastrophe striking our earth? “The wind bloweth where it listeth” (pleaseth), which means that man can neither harness nor hinder it. Sometimes the wind blows with great fury, and it might be that it should suddenly gather in volume and velocity until it became a hurricane earth-wide in its range. If there is nothing more than the laws of Nature regulating the wind, then, perhaps tomorrow, there may come a terrific tornado and sweep everything from the surface of the earth! What assurance have we against such a calamity? Again; of late years we have heard and read much about clouds bursting and flooding whole districts, working fearful havoc in the destruction of both property and life. Man is helpless before them, for science can devise no means to prevent clouds bursting. Then how do we know that these bursting clouds will not be multiplied indefinitely and the whole earth be deluged by their downpour? This would be nothing new: why should not the Flood of Noah’s day be repeated? And what of earthquakes? Every few years some island or some great city is swept out of existence by one of them—and what can man do? Where is the guaranty that ere long a mammoth earthquake will not destroy the whole world. Science tells us of great subterranean fires burning beneath the comparatively thin crust of our earth. How do we know but what these fires will not suddenly burst forth and consume our entire globe? Surely every reader now sees the point we are seeking to make: Deny that God is governing matter, deny that He is “upholding all things by the word of His power” (Heb. 1:3), and all sense of security is gone!
Let us pursue a similar course of reasoning in connection with the human race. Is God governing this world of ours? Is He shaping the destinies of nations, controlling the course of empires, determining the limits of dynasties? Has He prescribed the limits of evil-doers, saying, Thus far shalt thou go and no further? Let us suppose the opposite for a moment. Let us assume that God has delivered over the helm into the hand of His creatures and see where such a supposition leads us. For the sake of argument we will say that every man enters this world endowed with a will that is absolutely free, and that it is impossible to compel or even coerce him without destroying his freedom. Let us say that every man possesses a knowledge of right and wrong, that he has the power to choose between them, and that he is left entirely free to make his own choice and go his own way. Then what? Then it follows that man is Sovereign, for he does as he pleases and is the architect of his own fortune. But in such a case we can have no assurance that ere long every man will reject the good and choose the evil. In such a case we have no guaranty against the entire human race committing moral suicide. Let all Divine restraints be removed and man be left absolutely free, and all ethical distinctions would immediately disappear, the spirit of barbarism would prevail universally, and pandemonium would reign supreme. Why not? If one nation deposes its rulers and repudiates its constitution, what is there to prevent all nations from doing the same?
If little more than a century ago the streets of Paris ran with the blood of rioters, what assurance have we that before the present century closes every city throughout the world will not witness a similar sight? What is there to hinder earth-wide lawlessness and universal anarchy? Thus we have sought to show the need, the imperative need, for God to occupy the Throne, take the government upon His shoulder, and control the activities and destinies of His creatures.
But has the man of faith any difficulty in perceiving the government of God over this world? Does not the anointed eye discern, even amid much seeming confusion and chaos, the hand of the Most High controlling and shaping the affairs of men, even in the common concerns of every day life? Take for example farmers and their crops. Suppose God left them to themselves: what would prevent them, one and all, from grassing their arable lands and devoting themselves exclusively to rearing of cattle and dairying? In such a case there would be a world-famine of wheat and corn! Take the work of the post office. Suppose that everybody decided to write letters on Mondays only, could the authorities cope with the mail on Tuesdays? and how would they occupy their time the balance of the week? So again with storekeepers. What would happen if every housewife did her shopping on Wednesday, and stayed at home the rest of the week? But instead of such things happening, farmers in different countries both raise sufficient cattle and grow enough grain of various kinds to supply the almost incalculable needs of the human race; the mails are almost evenly distributed over the six days of the week; and some women shop on Monday, some on Tuesday, and so on. Do not these things clearly evidence the overruling and controlling hand of God!
Having shown, in brief, the imperative need for God to reign over our world, let us now observe still further the fact that God does rule, actually rule, and that His government extends to and is exercised over all things and all creatures.
1. GOD GOVERNS INANIMATE MATTER.
That God governs inanimate matter, that inanimate matter performs His bidding and fulfils His decrees, is clearly shown on the very frontispiece of Divine revelation. God said, “Let there be light,” and we read, “There was light.” God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear,” and “it was so.” And again, “God said, Let the earth bring forth grass the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so.” And the Psalmist declares, “He spake and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast.” What is stated in Genesis One is afterwards illustrated all through the Bible. After the creation of Adam, sixteen centuries went by before ever a shower of rain fell upon the earth, for before Noah “there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground” (Gen. 2:6). But, when the iniquities of the antediluvians had come to the full, then God said, “And, behold, I even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under Heaven; and everything that is in the earth shall die”; and in fulfilment of this we read, “In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of Heaven were opened. And the rain was upon the earth forty days and forty nights” (Gen. 6:17 and 7:11, 12).
Witness God’s absolute (and Sovereign) control of inanimate matter in connection with the plagues of Egypt. At His bidding the light was turned into darkness and rivers into blood; hail fell, and death came down upon the godless land of the Nile, until even its haughty monarch was compelled to cry out for deliverance. Note particularly how the inspired record here emphasises God’s absolute control over the elements—”And Moses stretched forth his rod toward Heaven: and the LORD sent thunder and hail, and the fire ran along upon the ground; and the LORD rained hail upon the land of Egypt. So there was hail, and fire mingled with the hail, very grievous, such as there was none like it in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation. And the hail smote throughout all the land of Egypt all that was in the field, both man and beast; and the hail smote every herb of the field, and brake every tree of the field. Only in the land of Goshen, where the children of Israel were, was there no hail” (Exo. 9:23-26). The same distinction was observed in connection with the ninth plague: “And the LORD said unto Moses, Stretch out thine hand toward Heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, even darkness which may be felt. And Moses stretched forth his hand toward Heaven; and there was a thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days: They saw not one another, neither rose any from his place for three days: but all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings” (Exo. 10:21-23).
The above examples are by no means isolated cases. At God’s decree fire and brimstone descended from Heaven and the cities of the Plain were destroyed, and a fertile valley was converted into a loathsome sea of death. At His bidding the waters of the Red Sea parted asunder so that the Israelites passed over dry shod, and at His word they rolled back again and destroyed the Egyptians who were pursuing them. A word from Him, and the earth opened her mouth and Korah and his rebellious company were swallowed up. The furnace of Nebuchadnezzar was heated seven times beyond its normal temperature, and into it three of God’s children were cast, but the fire did not so much as scorch their clothes, though it slew the men who cast them into it.
What a demonstration of the Creator’s governmental control over the elements was furnished when He became flesh and tabernacled among men! Behold Him asleep in the boat. A storm arises. The winds roar and the waves are lashed into fury. The disciples who are with Him, fearful lest their little craft should founder, awake their Master, saying, “Carest Thou not that we perish?” And then we read, “And He arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm” (Mark 4:39). Mark again, the sea, at the will of its Creator, bore Him up upon its waves. At a word from Him, the fig-tree withered; at His touch disease fled instantly.
The heavenly bodies are also ruled by their Maker and perform His Sovereign pleasure. Take two illustrations. At God’s bidding the sun went back ten degrees on the dial of Ahaz to help the weak faith of Hezekiah. In New Testament times, God caused a star to herald the incarnation of His Son—the star which appeared unto the wise men of the East. This star, we are told, “went before them till it came and stood over where the young Child was” (Matt. 2:9).
What a declaration is this: “He sendeth forth His commandment upon earth: His word runneth very swiftly. He giveth snow like wool: He scattereth the hoar frost like ashes. He casteth forth His ice like morsels: who can stand before His cold? He sendeth out His word, and melteth them: He causeth His wind to blow, and the waters flow” (Psa. 147:15-18). The mutations of the elements are beneath God’s Sovereign control. It is God who withholds the rain, and it is God who gives the rain when He wills, where He wills, as He wills, and on whom He wills. Weather Bureaux may attempt to give forecasts of the weather, but how frequently God mocks their calculations! Sun ‘spots,’ the varying activities of the planets, the appearing and disappearing of comets (to which abnormal weather is sometimes attributed), atmospheric disturbances, are merely secondary causes, for behind them all is God Himself. Let His Word speak once more: “And also I have withholden the rain from you, when there were yet three months to the harvest: and I caused it to rain upon one city, and caused it not to rain upon another city: one piece was rained upon, and the piece whereon it rain not withered. So two or three cities wandered unto one city, to drink water; but they were not satisfied: yet have ye not returned unto Me, saith the LORD. I have smitten you with blasting and mildew: when your gardens and your vineyards and your fig trees and your olive trees increased, the palmerworm devoured them: yet have ye not returned unto Me, saith the LORD. I have sent among you the pestilence after the manner of Egypt: your young men have I slain with the sword, and have taken away your horses; and I have made the stink of your camps to come up into your nostrils: yet have ye not returned unto Me,
saith the LORD” (Amos 4:7-10).
Truly, then, God governs inanimate matter. Earth and air, fire and water, hail and snow, stormy winds and angry seas, all perform the word of His power and fulfill His Sovereign pleasure. Therefore, when we complain about the weather we are, in reality, murmuring against God.
2. GOD GOVERNS IRRATIONAL CREATURES.
What a striking illustration of God’s government over the animal kingdom is found in Genesis 2:19! “And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air: and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.” Should it be said that this occurred in Eden, and took place before the fall of Adam and the consequent curse which was inflicted on every creature, then our next reference fully meets the objection: God’s control of the beasts was again openly displayed at the Flood. Mark how God caused to “come unto” Noah every specie of living creature “of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female. Of fowls after their kind, of every creeping thing after his kind: two of every sort shall come unto thee” (Gen. 6:19, 20)—all were beneath God’s Sovereign control. The lion of the jungle, the elephant of the forest, the bear of the polar regions; the ferocious panther, the untameable wolf, the fierce tiger; the high-soaring eagle and the creeping crocodile—see them all in their native fierceness, and yet, quietly submitting to the will of their Creator, and coming two by two into the ark!
We referred to the plagues sent upon Egypt as illustrating God’s control of inanimate matter, let us now turn to them again to see how they demonstrate His perfect rulership over irrational creatures. At His Word the river brought forth frogs abundantly, and these frogs entered the palace of Pharaoh and the houses of his servants and, contrary to their natural instincts, they entered the beds, the ovens and the kneading troughs (Exo. 8:13). Swarms of flies invaded the land of Egypt, but there were no flies in the land of Goshen! (Exo. 8:22). Next, the cattle were stricken, and we read, “Behold, the hand of the LORD is upon the asses, upon the camels, upon the oxen, and upon the sheep: there shall be a very grievous murrain. And the LORD shall sever between the cattle of Israel and the cattle of Egypt: and there shall nothing die of all that is the children’s of Israel. And the LORD appointed a set time, saying, Tomorrow the LORD shall do this thing in the land. And the LORD did that thing on the morrow, and all the cattle of Egypt died: but of the cattle of the children of Israel died not one” (Exo. 9:3-6). In like manner God sent clouds of locusts to plague Pharaoh and his land, appointing the time of their visitation, determining the course and assigning the limits of their depredations.
Angels are not the only ones who do God’s bidding. The brute beasts equally perform His pleasure. The sacred ark, the ark of the covenant, is in the country of the Philistines. How is it to be brought back to its home land? Mark the servants of God’s choice, and how completely they were beneath His control: “And the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners saying, What shall we do to the ark of the Lord? tell us wherewith we shall send it to his place. And they said… Now therefore make a new cart, and take two milch kine, on which there hath come no yoke, and tie the kine to the cart, and bring their calves home from them: And take the ark of the Lord, and lay it upon the cart; and put the jewels of gold, which ye return Him for a trespass offering, in a coffer by the side thereof, and send it away that it may go. And see, if it goeth up by the way of his own coast to Bethshemesh, then He hath done us this great evil: but if not, then we shall know that it is not His hand that smote us; it was a chance that happened to us.” And what happened? How striking the sequel! “And the kine took the straight way to the way of Bethshemesh, and went along the highway, lowing as they went, and turned not aside to the right hand or to the left” (1 Sam. 6:12). Equally striking is the case of Elijah: “And the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, Get thee hence, and hide thyself by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan. And it shall be, that thou shalt drink of the brook; and I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there” (1 Kings 17:2-4). The natural instinct of these birds of prey was held in subjection, and instead of consuming the food themselves, they carried it to Jehovah’s servant in his solitary retreat.
Is further proof required? then it is ready at hand. God makes a dumb ass to rebuke the prophet’s madness. He sends forth two she-bears from the woods to devour forty and two of Elijah’s tormentors. In fulfilment of His word, He causes the dogs to lick up the blood of the wicked Jezebel. He seals the mouths of Babylon’s lions when Daniel is cast into the den, though, later, He causes them to devour the prophet’s accusers. He prepares a great fish to swallow the disobedient Jonah and then, when His ordained hour struck, compelled it to vomit him forth on dry land. At His biding a fish carries a coin to Peter for tribute money, and in order to fulfill His word He makes the cock crow twice after Peter’s denial. Thus we see that God reigns over irrational creatures: beasts of the field, birds of the air, fishes of the sea, all perform His Sovereign bidding.
3. GOD GOVERNS THE CHILDREN OF MEN.
We fully appreciate the fact that this is the most difficult part of our subject, and, accordingly, it will be dealt with at greater length in the pages that follow; but at present we consider the fact of God’s government over men in general, before we attempt to deal with the problem in detail.
Two alternatives confront us, and between them we are obliged to choose: either God governs, or He is governed; either God rules, or He is ruled; either God has His way, or men have theirs.
And is our choice between these alternatives hard to make? Shall we say that in man we behold a creature so unruly that he is beyond God’s control? Shall we say that sin has alienated the sinner so far from the thrice Holy One that he is outside the pale of His jurisdiction? Or, shall we say that man has been endowed with moral responsibility, and therefore God must leave him entirely free, at least during the period of his probation? Does it necessarily follow because the natural man is an outlaw against Heaven, a rebel against the Divine government, that God is unable to fulfill His purpose through him? We mean, not merely that He may overrule the effects of the actions of evil-doers, nor that He will yet bring the wicked to stand before His judgement-bar so that sentence of punishment may be passed upon them—multitudes of non-Christians believe these things—but, we mean, that every action of the most lawless of His subjects is entirely beneath His control, yea that the actor is, though unknown to himself, carrying out the secret decrees of the Most High. Was it not thus with Judas? and is it possible to select a more extreme case? If then the arch-rebel was performing the counsel of God is it any greater tax upon our faith to believe the same of all rebels?
Our present object is no philosophic inquiry nor metaphysical casuistry, but to ascertain the teaching of Scripture upon this profound theme. To the Law and the Testimony, for there only can we learn of the Divine government—its character, its design, its modus operandi, its scope. What then has it pleased God to reveal to us in His blessed Word concerning His rule over the works of His hands, and particularly, over the one who originally was made in His own image and likeness?
“In Him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28). What a sweeping assertion is this! These words, be it noted, were addressed, not to one of the churches of God, not to a company of saints who had reached an exalted plane of spirituality, but to a heathen audience, to those who worshipped “the unknown God” and who “mocked” when they heard of the resurrection of the dead. And yet, to the Athenian philosophers, to the Epicureans and Stoics, the Apostle Paul did not hesitate to affirm that they lived and moved and had their being in God, which signified not only that they owed their existence and preservation to the One who made the world and all things therein, but also that their very actions were encompassed and therefore controlled by the Lord of Heaven and earth. Compare Daniel 5:23, last clause!
“The disposings (margin) of the heart, and the answer of the tongue is from the LORD” (Prov. 16:1). Mark that the above declaration is of general application—it is of “man,” not simply of believers, that this is predicated. “A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps” (Prov. 16:9). If the Lord directs the steps of a man, is it not proof that he is being controlled or governed by God? Again: “There are many devices in a man’s heart; nevertheless the counsel of the LORD, that shall stand” (Prov. 19:21). Can this mean anything less than, that no matter what man may desire and plan, it is the will of his Maker which is executed? As an illustration take the “Rich Fool.” The “devices” of his heart are made known to us—”And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there I will bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.” Such were the “devices” of his heart, nevertheless it was “the counsel of the Lord” that stood. The “I will’s” of the rich man came to nought, for “God said unto him, Thou fool, this night shall thy soul be required of thee” (Luke 12:17-20).
“The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: He turneth it whithersoever He will (Prov. 21:1). What could be more explicit? Out of the heart are “the issues of life” (Prov. 4:23), for as a man “thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7). If then the heart is in the hand of the Lord, and if “He turneth it whithersoever He will,” then is it not clear that men, yea, governors and rulers, and so all men, are completely beneath the governmental control of the Almighty!
No limitations must be placed upon the above declarations. To insist that some men, at least, do thwart God’s will and overturn His counsels, is to repudiate other Scriptures equally explicit. Weigh well the following: “But He is one mind, and who can turn Him? and what His soul desireth, even that He doeth” (Job 23:13). “The counsel of the LORD standeth for ever, the thoughts of His heart to all generations” (Psa. 33:11). “There is no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against the LORD” (Prov. 21:30). “For the LORD of hosts hath purposed, and who shall disannul it? And His hand is stretched out, and who shall turn it back?” (Isa. 14:27). “Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else! I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure” (Isa. 46:9, 10). There is no ambiguity in these passages. They affirm in the most unequivocal and unqualified terms that it is impossible to bring to naught the purpose of Jehovah.
We read the Scriptures in vain if we fail to discover that the actions of men, evil men as well as good, are governed by the Lord God. Nimrod and his fellows determined to erect the tower of Babel, but ere their task was accomplished God frustrated their plans. God called Abraham “alone” (Isa. 51:2), but his kinsfolk accompanied him as he left Ur of the Chaldees. Was then the will of the Lord defeated? Nay, verily. Mark the sequel. Terah died before Canaan was reached (Gen. 11:32), and though Lot accompanied his uncle into the land of promise, he soon separated from him and settled down in Sodom. Jacob was the child to whom the inheritance was promised, and though Isaac sought to reverse Jehovah’s decree and bestow the blessing upon Esau, his efforts came to naught. Esau again swore vengeance upon Jacob, but when next they met they wept for joy instead of fighting in hate. The brethren of Joseph determined his destruction but their evil counsels were overthrown. Pharaoh refused to let Israel carry out the instructions of Jehovah and perished in the Red Sea for his pains. Balak hired Balaam to curse the Israelites but God compelled him to bless them. Haman erected a gallows for Mordecai but was hanged upon it himself. Jonah resisted the revealed will of God but what became of his efforts?
Ah, the heathen may “rage” and the people imagine a “vain thing”; the kings of earth may “set themselves,” and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His Christ, saying, “Let us break Their bands asunder, and cast away Their cords from us (Psa. 2:1-3). But is the great God perturbed or disturbed by the rebellion of his puny creatures? No, indeed: “He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the LORD shall have them in derision” (v. 4). He is infinitely exalted above all, and the greatest confederacies or earth’s pawns, and their most extensive and vigorous preparations to defeat His purpose are, in His sight, altogether puerile. He looks upon their puny efforts, not only without any alarm, but He “laughs” at their folly; He treats their impotency with “derision.” He knows that He can crush them like moths when He pleases, or consume them in a moment with the breath of His mouth. Ah, it is but “a vain thing” for the potsherds of the earth to strive with the glorious Majesty of Heaven. Such is our God; worship ye Him.
Mark, too, the Sovereignty which God displayed in His dealings with men! Moses who was slow of speech, and not Aaron his elder brother who was not slow of speech, was the one chosen to be His ambassador in demanding from Egypt’s monarch the release of His oppressed people. Moses again, though greatly beloved, utters one hasty word and was excluded from Canaan; whereas Elijah, passionately murmurs and suffers but a mild rebuke, and was afterwards taken to Heaven without seeing death! Uzzah merely touched the ark and was instantly slain, whereas the Philistines carried it off in insulting triumph and suffered no immediate harm. Displays of grace which would have brought a doomed Sodom to repentance failed to move an highly privileged Capernaum. Mighty works which would have subdued Tyre and Sidon left the upbraided cities of Galilee under the curse of a rejected Gospel. If they would have prevailed over the former, why were they not wrought there? If they proved ineffectual to deliver the latter then why perform them? What exhibitions are these of the Sovereign will of the Most High!
4. GOD GOVERNS ANGELS: BOTH GOOD AND EVIL ANGELS.
The angels are God’s servants, His messengers, His chariots. They ever hearken to the word of His mouth and do His commands. “And God sent an angel unto Jerusalem to destroy it: and as he was destroying, the LORD beheld, and He repented Him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed. It is enough, stay now thine hand… And the LORD commanded the angel; and he put his sword again into the sheath thereof” (1 Chron. 21:15, 27). Many other Scriptures might be cited to show that the angels are in subjection to the will of their Creator and perform His bidding —”And when Peter was come to himself, he said, Now I know of a surety, that the Lord hath sent His angel, and hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod” (Acts 12:11). “And the Lord God of the holy prophets sent His angel to shew unto His servants the things which must shortly be done” (Rev. 22:6). So it will be when our Lord returns: “The Son of Man shall send forth His angels and they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity” (Matt. 13:41). Again, we read, “He shall send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of Heaven to the other” (Matt. 24:31).
The same is true of evil spirits: they, too, fulfill God’s Sovereign decrees. An evil spirit is sent by God to stir up rebellion in the camp of Abimelech: “Then God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem,” which aided him in the killing of his brethren (Judges 9:23). Another evil spirit He sent to be a lying spirit in the mouth of Ahab’s prophets— “Now therefore, behold, the LORD hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these thy prophets, and the LORD hath spoken evil concerning thee” (1 Kings 22:23). And yet another was sent by the Lord to trouble Saul—”But the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD troubled him” (1 Sam. 16:14). So, too, in the New Testament: a whole legion of the demons go not out of their victim until the Lord gave them permission
to enter the herd of swine.
It is clear from Scripture, then, that the angels, good and evil, are under God’s control, and willingly or unwillingly carry out God’s purpose. Yea, SATAN himself is absolutely subject to God’s control. When arraigned in Eden, he listened to the awful sentence but answered not a word. He was unable to touch Job until God granted him leave. So, too, he had to gain our Lord’s consent before he could “sift” Peter. When Christ commanded him to depart—”Get thee hence, Satan”—we read, “Then the Devil leaveth Him” (Matt. 4:11). And, in the end, he will be cast into the Lake of Fire which has been prepared for him and his angels.
The Lord God omnipotent reigneth. His government is exercised over inanimate matter, over the brute beasts, over the children of men, over angels good and evil, and over Satan himself. No revolving world, no shining of star, no storm, no creature moves, no actions of men, no errands of angels, no deeds of Devil—nothing in all the vast universe can come to pass otherwise than God has eternally purposed. Here is a foundation of faith. Here is a resting place for the intellect. Here is an anchor for the soul, both sure and steadfast. It is not blind fate, unbridled evil, man or Devil, but the Lord Almighty who is ruling the world, ruling it according to His own good pleasure and for His own eternal glory.
“Ten thousand ages ere the skies
Were into motion brought;
All the long years and worlds to come,
Stood present to His thought:
There’s not a sparrow nor a worm,
But’s found in His decrees,
He raises monarchs to their thrones
And sings as He may please.”