The Sovereignty of God in Saving Sinners

by J. C. Ryle

In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank you, O Father, Lord of Heaven and earth, that you have hid these things from the wise and prudent, and have revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in your sight. All things are delivered to me of my Father: and no man knows who the Son is, but the Father; and who the Father is, but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him. And he turned him unto his disciples, and said privately, Blessed are the eyes which see the things that you see: For I tell you, that many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which you see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which you hear, and have not heard them.

There are five remarkable points in these verses which deserve the attention of all who wish to be well-instructed Christians. Let us take each of the five in order.

We should observe, in the first place — the one instance on record of our Lord Jesus Christ rejoicing. We read, that in "that hour, Jesus rejoiced in spirit." Three times we are told in the Gospels that our Lord Jesus Christ wept. Once only we are told that He rejoiced.

And what was the cause of our Lord's joy? It was the conversion of souls. It was the reception of the Gospel by the weak and lowly among the Jews — when the "wise and prudent" on every side were rejecting it. Our blessed Lord no doubt saw much in this world to grieve Him. He saw the obstinate blindness and unbelief of the vast majority of those among whom He ministered. But when He saw a few poor men and women receiving the glad tiding of salvation — even His heart was refreshed. He saw it, and was glad.

Let all Christians mark our Lord's conduct in this matter, and follow His example. They find little in the world to cheer them. They see around them, a vast multitude walking in the broad way that leads to destruction — careless, hardened, and unbelieving. They see a few here and there, and only a few, who believe to the saving of their souls. Let this sight make them thankful. Let them bless God that any at all are converted, and that any at all believe.

We do not sufficiently realize the sinfulness of man. We do not reflect that the conversion of any soul is a miracle — a miracle as great as the raising of Lazarus from the dead! Let us learn from our blessed Lord to be more thankful. There is always some blue sky, as well as black clouds — if we will only look for it. Though only a few are saved — we should find reason for rejoicing. It is only through free grace and undeserved mercy, that any are saved at all.

We should observe, secondly — the sovereignty of God in saving sinners. We read that our Lord says to His Father, "You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent — and revealed them unto babes." The meaning of these words is clear and plain. There are some from whom salvation is "hidden." There are others to whom salvation is "revealed."

The truth here laid down is deep and mysterious. "It is as high as Heaven — what can we do? It is as deep as Hell — what do we know?" Why some around us are converted, and others remain dead in sins — we cannot possibly explain. Why England is a Christian country, and China buried in idolatry — is a problem we cannot solve. We only know that it is so. We can only acknowledge that the words of our Lord Jesus Christ supply the only answer that mortal man ought to give, "Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight."

Let us, however, never forget that God's sovereignty does not destroy man's responsibility. That same God who does all things according to the counsel of His own will — always addresses us as accountable creatures, as beings whose blood will be on their own heads if they are lost. We cannot understand all His dealings. We see in part, and know in part.

Let us rest in the conviction that the judgment day will clear up all — and that the Judge of all will not fail to do right. In the meantime, let us remember that God's offers of salvation are free, wide, broad, and unlimited, and that "In our doings, that will of God is to be followed which we have expressly declared unto us in the Word of God." If truth is hidden from some and revealed to others — then we may be sure that there is a cause.

We should observe, thirdly — the character of those from whom truth is hidden, and of those to whom truth is revealed. We read that our Lord says, "You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent — and have revealed them unto babes."

We must not gather a wrong lesson from these words. We must not infer that any people on earth are naturally more deserving of God's grace and salvation, than others. All are alike sinners, and all alike merit nothing but wrath and condemnation. We must simply regard the words as stating a fact.

The wisdom of this world often makes people proud, and increases their natural enmity to Christ's Gospel. The man who has no pride of knowledge, or imagined morality to trust in — has often fewest difficulties to get over in coming to the knowledge of the truth. The publicans and sinners are often the first to enter the kingdom of God — while the Scribes and Pharisees stand outside.

Let us learn from these words, to beware of self-righteousness. Nothing so blinds the eyes of our souls to the beauty of the Gospel — as the vain, delusive idea, that we are not so ignorant and wicked as some, and that we have got a good character which will bear inspection. Happy is that man who has learned to feel that he is "wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked!" (Revelation 3:17.)

To see that we are bad — is the first step towards being really good. To feel that we are ignorant — is the first beginning of all saving knowledge.

We should observe, in the fourth place — the majesty and dignity of our Lord Jesus Christ. We read that He said, "My Father has given me authority over all things. No one really knows the Son — except the Father; and no one really knows the Father — except the Son, and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him." These are the words of one who was fully God — and no mere man. We read of no patriarch, or prophet, or apostle, or saint, of any age — who ever used words like these. They reveal to our wondering eyes, a little of the mighty majesty of our Lord's nature and person. They show Him to us, as the Head over all things, and King of kings, "My Father has given me authority over all things."

They show Him as one distinct from the Father — and yet entirely one with Him, and knowing Him in an unspeakable manner. "No one really knows the Son — except the Father; and no one really knows the Father — except the Son."

They show Him, not least, as the Mighty Revealer of the Father to men, as the God who pardons iniquity, and loves sinners for His Son's sake — "No one really knows the Father — except the Son, and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him."

Let us repose our souls confidently on our Lord Jesus Christ. He is one who is "mighty to save." As many and as weighty as our sins are — Christ can bear them all. As difficult as the work of our salvation is — Christ is able to accomplish it. If Christ was not God as well as man — then we might indeed despair. But with such a Savior as this — we may begin boldly, and press on hopefully, and await death and judgment without fear. Our help is laid on one that is mighty! (Psalm 89:19.) Christ over all, God blessed forever — will not fail any who trust in Him.

Let us observe, finally — the peculiar privileges of those who hear the Gospel of Christ. We read that our Lord said to His disciples, "Blessed are the eyes which see the things that you see. For I tell you that many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which you see — and have not seen them; and to hear those things which you hear — and have not heard them."

The full significance of these words will probably never be understood by Christians until the last day. We have probably at most, a faint idea of the enormous advantages enjoyed by believers who have lived since Christ came into the world — compared to those of believers who died before Christ was born. The difference between the knowledge of an Old Testament saint and a saint in the apostles' days — is far greater than we conceive. It is the difference of midnight and noon-day, of winter and summer, of the mind of a child and the mind of a full-grown man.

No doubt the Old Testament saints looked to a coming Savior by faith, and believed in a resurrection and a life to come. But the coming and death of Christ — unlocked a hundred Scriptures which before were closed, and cleared up scores of doubtful points which before had never been solved. In short, "the way into the holiest was not made manifest, while the first tabernacle was standing." (Hebrews 9:8.) The humblest Christian believer, understands things which David and Isaiah could never explain!

Let us leave the passage with a deep sense of our own debt to God — and of our great responsibility for the full light of the Gospel. Let us see that we make a good use of our many privileges. Having a full Gospel — let us beware that we do not neglect it. It is a weighty saying, "To whomever much is given — of them will much be required." (Luke 12:48.)

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