by Rev. D. H. Kuiper
"But our God is in the heavens: He hath done whatsoever He hath pleased." Ps.115:3
The Reformed faith, which is the true faith of the Scriptures, stressed the absolute sovereignty of God. A truly Reformed church and the truly Reformed believer hold to the truth of the divine sovereignty not by way of lip service or by way of mentioning it once in a while, but by preaching it, believing it, confessing it, and rejoicing in it! For the sovereignty of God is literally revealed on every page of Holy Writ. Every page of the bible is God's Word and makes the claim that God is to be recognized, heard, believed on, obeyed, and thanked. Perhaps it can be said that no where is the deep truth of God's sovereignty set forth more simply than in the text quoted above, as well as in the parallel passage of Psalm 135:6. Clearly, the Psalmist wants us to understand that the kingship of the high and lofty One is involved, and that nothing in the entire universe escapes His sovereignty, and that the good pleasure or will of God is basic to the understanding of this subject.
In Psalm 115 a great contrast is set forth, as is indicated by the opening word of verse 3. The unbeliever, the vain idol worshipper, throws a dart at the child of God: "Where is now your God?" These unbelievers have their gods, but they cannot speak, or see, or hear, or handle, or walk! to this mockery the child of God responds, "But our God is in the heavens; He hath done whatsoever He hath pleased!" Today, in many churches, people have a god that is not the work of their hands, but is surely the work of their minds or imaginations, and it differs little from the idols of the heathen. And they protest against the presentation of a God who is sovereign, who always does His will, and who does not say please to the creature. Protest as they may, they will have to answer to the Scriptures. What does Scripture say? Not what man pleased, not what God and man decide together, but always and only what God has pleased, that does He "in heaven, and in earth, in the seas and all the deep places!"
We tread on holy ground when we take up the tremendous truth of divine sovereignty, and we ought to be reminded that there are aspects to this truth that we cannot understand. Nevertheless, Scripture clearly and carefully sets this truth forth! The sovereignty of God is the exercise of His supremacy. God is the high and lofty One; no one is greater than He, equal to him, or any where near to Him. And when this great God acts, when He goes about His divine business, then he does so in perfect freedom! Sovereignty implies authority, and authority is the right to rule. It is the right to do what one wishes, to decide what is good and evil, to impose one's will on others and demand conformance; authority is the right to reward obedience and to punish disobedience! In close connection with this, soveriegnty is the freedom to do what one pleases without being answerable to anyone. No one may question God as to what He is doing! The Scripture drives this lesson home hard in such passages as Daniel 4:35, "And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and He doest according to His will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth, and none can stay His hand, or say to Him, What doest Thou?"; Job 9:12, "Behold, He taketh away, who can hinder Him? Who will say unto Him, What doest Thou?'; Romans 9:20, "Who art thou, O man, that repliest against God? shall the thing formed say to Him that formed it, Why hast Thou made me thus?". (See also the parable of our Lord in Matt. 20:1-16)
Only one can be sovereign. You can never have two sovereign beings. How could that ever be? Two that had all power and authority? Two that were the highest? Two that are perfectly free to do as they pleased? Impossible. there is One that is eternal, independent, sovereignly free, and that is GOD! Nor can any limits be placed upon God's sovereignty. There are many who would make restrictions or exceptions to divine sovereignty. They are willing to admit to sovereignty in respect to weather and climate, sickness and health, wars and other disasters. But they want to draw the line when it comes to man! They try to exclude human thoughts, words, deeds, and destinies from the sovereignty of God! But this would destroy God's sovereignty. We will show that there cannot be a single exception of any kind!
Following the lead of the many scriptures which speak to this point, we would define God's sovereignty as that attribute of God according to which he has the right and the freedom to do
whatsoever He pleases, whenever He pleases, however He pleases, in respect to whomever He pleases! And lest anyone begin to think that this view of God might present Him as capricious or erratic, we will add whatsoever God pleases to do is always in harmony with His entire Being, with His holiness, wisdom,justice, and truth!
The one great objection that has been raised against the truth of the sovereignty of God, historically but also today, is that this does away with the responsibility of man, making a man a mere piece of wood who is moved about as a pawn on the chessboard. We want to answer this objection, which is the objection of everyone who believes in the free will of man, by quoting from the Scriptures. When a man wanted to kill a certain Shimei who was cursing David, the king said, "So let him curse, because the Lord hath said unto him, Curse David. Who then shall say, Wherefore hast thou done so?'. (II Samuel 16:10) Secondly, there are God's dealings with Pharaoh; God raised up Pharaoh for the one purpose of revealing His glory through him, and accordingly hardened Pharaoh's heart repeatedly. (See Exodus 7:3ff and Romans 9:17). Thirdly, there is the comment of Jesus in Luke 22:22, "And truly the Son of man goeth as it was determined: but woe unto that man by whom he is betrayed." And finally consider Acts 2:33 "Him, being delivered by the determinate foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain." In every one of these examples two things stand out: first and foremost, God sovereignly determined that a certain man would commit a particular sin; and secondly, the same God holds that man accountable for that very sin!
When God wills that a man sins, and when He so rules that a man commits that sin in his life, God does this without becoming the author of the sin in any sense. God hates all sin; God detests those sins which He sovereignly wills that man commits. In fact, one reason for his willing them is that He might reveal His utter detestation of them! Further, where a man commits a sin (be that Shimei, Pharaoh, Judas Iscariot, the unbelieving Jews, you, or I) he does not do that against his own will. He doesn't do something that he does not want to do, or that he is forced into doing. Pharaoh wanted to keep the Israelites as slaves. Judas wanted that silver. With our sins, we also want something that we think is desirable. The key point in all this is that when God exercises His sovereignty in respect to man and his deeds, He does not interfere between the will of man and the act of man. If God would interject Himself between the will and the act of man, man would indeed be a stock and a block. But God works with the will of man. God works behind the scenes, as it were, so that man always wills and wants what God has determined for him. Thus we must conclude that man's will is not free because of the fall of Adam and the resulting depravity of the entire human race; the will of man is bound in the service of sin. but more than that, the will of man even before the fall was not absolutely free either. Only God is perfectly free. The sovereignty of God always surrounds man, touches him at every point, and determined what he is and does. So far is divine sovereignty from being a truth that denies the responsibility of man, it is the truth which is the basis of, and establishes, human responsibility!
We must be very brief as to the question, How does God exercise his sovereignty? Doing all things after the counsel of His own will, God freely created. God did not have to create anything, but it pleased Him to do so. God sovereignly decided how He would create, namely, in six days and by speaking His Word of power. God freely decided what He would call forth into being: the heavens, the earth, and all they contain. And finally God also determined why He would create, and that is to reveal His power, greatness, and glory. And remember, all things were created by Christ and for Christ!
God exercises his sovereignty, secondly, in providence, which is the everywhere present power of God whereby He doth, as by His hand, uphold and govern all things. "The kings heart is in the Lord's hand as the rivers of water, He turneth it whithersoever He will." (Prov. 21:1) Matters of peace and war, matters such as nations having or not having oil, iron, and other raw material; matters such as promotion, the setting up of one and the putting down of another; matters such as your and my position and station in life . . . these things come to pass not by chance but by the hand of the heavenly Father of the church!
But nowhere does the sovereignty of God stand forth so clearly and so beautifully as when He makes righteous discrimination between men according to His eternal decree of predestination, both election and reprobation! God did not have to save a single soul, but He wills to do so! And He willed to save freely of grace, in the way of the gift of faith in Jesus Christ which He graciously bestows upon His elect, and which He sovereignly withholds from the reprobate. Study the ninth chapter of Romans! Do so reverently, as a child, bowing before the revelation of God. There you catch a glimpse of the awesome sovereignty of our God! God chose His saints without regard to their merits or demerits, without regard to their faith or lack of faith, without regard to riches, talents, or personalities! He chose according to the good pleasure of His will! That makes the salvation of the Church of Jesus Christ certain, and that insures that God will have all glory in the Church, now and forever!
Would you have it any other way? the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth! He doeth whatsoever He