The Sovereignty Of God

Adapted From A Sermon By

George Burder

Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.

(Psalms 115:3)

Psalm 115 verse 3: Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. This morning we will consider another of our Creator’s, our great God’s attributes, his Sovereignty.

The sovereignty of God is a sublime and difficult subject, yet very important and useful. Some of the divine perfections may, perhaps, appear to our selfish minds more pleasing and attractive; but there is none in which our obedience and submission to him are more deeply concerned. Some of his attributes may seem more clearly to invite our confidence, and engage our affection; but as creatures in a state of subjection and trial, our interests are particularly tied to the divine sovereignty. It is important that we should be well established in this doctrine, that we may with sincerity pray, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven;” (Matthew 6:10) and that in the hour of adversity we may be able to say—“It is the Lord. Let him do what seems good to him.” (1 Samuel 3:4-18)

Sovereignty stands for, in general, Supremacy—the possession of supreme power:—a right to govern without the control of another; or, as in our text, power to act as one pleases. This right is here ascribed to God, and can belong to no other in the same sense or degree. Mere mortals, conquerors, and tyrants, have frequently assumed this right, and have exercised it over a small portion of this little globe, and over a few millions of their fellow-mortals; and history has awfully shown how unfit man is to be entrusted with unrestrained sovereignty; for great men are too often the subjects of that infernal sovereign, the devil, and slaves of their own bad passions; they are proud, ambitious, cruel, selfish, and misinformed: therefore, the common sense and common interest of mankind have led some to restrain human sovereignty within reasonable bounds; but the great, holy, and blessed God is incapable of any of these evils, and is perfectly qualified to exercise unlimited sovereignty over the whole universe.

Our present goal will be to establish and benefit from this great scriptural doctrine, that

The glorious God has a right to exercise dominion over all his creatures, and to do, in all respects, as he pleases.

This right naturally results from his being the Creator and the Possessor of heaven and earth. Who can dispute his right! He made all things; he supports all things; and is it not fit that he should govern all things? By his “will they existed and were created;” (Revelation 4:11)—may he then not do with them as he pleases? especially when we consider that

1- He is infinitely wise.

He knows all his creatures perfectly, all their actions, and all their tendencies. He is acquainted with the great plan which his own infinite mind projected before the beginning of time, and of which the wisest men know nothing, but that he has made all things for himself to display his own glory. (Isaiah 43:7, Proverbs 16:4) In the same way that little children, however clever, cannot understand the workings of a large machine, or the operations of a factory, or the affairs of government, so we short-sighted mortals, whatever our abilities may be, are unqualified to judge of the management of the universe; but we know that he is wise, and should rejoice to think that “the Lord reigns.” (Psalm 97:1)

2- He is also infinitely righteous.

His sovereign rule is not that of a proud tyrant; but of a most righteous and holy Governor. “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Genesis 18:25) Yes; he cannot do wrong. His ways may be, to our understanding, mysterious: his paths may be “through the sea, and his path through the great waters,” (Psalm 77:19) so that we may not be able to follow him: “clouds and thick darkness may be all around him,” (Psalms 97:2) so that we may not clearly discern him: but “righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.” (Psalm 89:14) It is the pride of man that judges God’s actions by the standard of human reasoning, and concludes that this is right, and that is wrong, according as it agrees or disagrees with human notions and practices. God’s ways and thoughts may differ widely from ours, but they are all right. “Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations.” (Revelation 15:3)

3- He is also infinitely good.

We may not always be able to discern the goodness of God. In particular instances, his dealings with men may seem severe; but we are bound to believe from the essential goodness of his nature, that none of his actions are inconsistent with it. In human affairs, the imprisonment or execution of a criminal may appear to an ignorant spectator a cruel action; but the intelligent observer knows that the general good of society is promoted by the punishment of evildoers. A child can hardly be persuaded to swallow a bad tasting medicine, however necessary; but an adult person receives it as a benefit, calculated to restore his health and preserve his life; he will even submit to the amputation of a limb for the same purpose. Likely, those things in the course of Providence which seem the most severe, are equally necessary; and the destruction of whole cities or nations may be so, as far as we can see: at least we may, very appropriately, say of God—

Good when he gives, supremely good,

Nor less when he denies;

E’en crosses, from his sovereign hand,

Are blessings in disguise.”

That the blessed God is not only perfectly qualified to exercise a sovereign rule over the universe, but that he actually does exercise it, has always done so, and will do so to the end of time, is absolutely certain and undeniable, and is uniformly asserted in the Scriptures. We need not stop here in order to produce formal proof; it will be sufficiently evident while we point out some of the distinct instances of his sovereignty:—In the creation of the world—in the fall of man—in the method appointed for his recovery—in the application of redemption to sinners—and all the temporal concerns of men, favorable or adverse.

1. Consider the sovereignty of God in the creation of the world.

Why was this world made at all? Why made just when it was? Why made as it was! Why not made many eons before? Why organized as it is? A sun in the center? —several planets revolving around it!—the earth in her present orbit! —the moon accompanying her!—why other planets nearer the sun—others farther? Why was this planet inhabited? and by such a creature as man, so like other beings in some respects, so unlike them in others! A thousand such questions might be asked. One answer suffices for them all—“You created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” (Revelation 4:11) We know no other reasons, nor is any other necessary.

2. The sovereignty of God may be seen in the awful event of man’s apostasy.

Before the fall, his Maker entered into a covenant with him, not for himself alone, but for all his posterity in and with him as their head and representative. If he should fulfill the condition of that covenant, abstaining from the forbidden tree as the pledge of his obedience, all his posterity would be confirmed in the same state of happiness and in the divine favor; if he transgressed, all his posterity would be involved in the consequences of that transgression and become liable to the same condemnation and misery with himself. Could all the posterity of Adam have been consulted, it is probable, that all would readily have consented to this arrangement; but whether they would have approved or not, or whether men now approve or disapprove of this state of things, does not matter. So God determined; and doubtless he determined rightly. He gave Adam sufficient power to maintain his integrity; but he left him free to fall. So his sovereignty appointed. Left to himself, he who could have stood, did fall, and by that fall “Brought death into the world, and all our woe!” (John Milton, Paradise Lost)

3. The sovereignty of God is displayed in the method he has been pleased to appoint for the recovery of fallen man.

There was rebellion in heaven, as well as on earth. Angels rebelled, and were expelled from Heaven—not all it is true; and why not all? The sovereign goodness of God preserved the “elect angels” (1 Timothy 5:21) from falling; the rest “he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day.” (Jude 1:6) But man, apostate man, became the object of God’s compassion; and no sooner did he need a Savior, than a Savior was promised —a Savior who should take upon himself the nature that had sinned, and restore the offender and his (believing) posterity to a better paradise than Adam lost. But why not include angels? Though they are superior beings to man, Divine sovereignty passed them by; “for surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham” —he took flesh and blood, that he might die, and by dying, “make propitiation for the sins of the people.” (Hebrews 2:16-17)

That this method of reconciliation should be chosen we ascribe to the divine sovereignty. That he should save any of the fallen race—that his Son should be the Savior—that in order to his being a Savior he should be incarnate—be born of a virgin—be born where and when he was —be a poor man, and a man of sorrows—should speak, and act as no man ever did, yet be treated as no man ever was; and that he who was to give life to the world, should himself die—die a violent death—die on the shameful cross, and that his so dying should be considered and accepted by a holy and just God as a sacrifice, satisfaction, and atonement for sin—that his blood should cleanse from all sin: and that, through faith in his blood, all sinners who believe should be freely, fully, and forever justified, and entitled to everlasting life.—Such was the divine plan; this is what God appointed in his sovereign pleasure; and therefore we conclude that this method of salvation is right and good, excellent and glorious, in every way worthy of its divine Author, who will be eternally glorified by the whole intelligent universe for adopting it.

4. The sovereignty of God is no less displayed in the application, than in the provision of this great salvation.

The glorious gospel, which is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes,” (Romans 1:16) is sent to one place and not to another. He has indeed authorized his disciples to proclaim his Gospel to “all nations”(Matthew 28:19)—“to the whole creation:” (Mark 16:15)—and no small share of blame, it may be feared, falls to the church, and especially to its ministers, that greater efforts have not been made in obedience to that command: yet we cannot deny the exercise of divine sovereignty in the unequal distribution of Gospel knowledge.

In the days of the apostles, Macedonia was preferred to Bithynia; and doubtless the providence of God directed the steps of the first Evangelists and of successive Missionaries. Some nations of the world are far more highly favored than others. Many heavily populated regions of Asia were long destitute of a gleam of light, and others long enjoyed but a very small portion of it. Almost the whole of Africa was for a long time in midnight darkness; and the vast continent of America knew nothing of the Gospel just a few centuries ago.

And will not every individual, who has “tasted that the Lord is good,” (1 Peter 2:3) ascribe all the light, the faith, the love, the hope that he enjoys to the sovereignty of God? That he was pleased to send his Gospel to the place where your live (while others are passed by;) that he should so order the circumstances of time and place, that you should be brought to hear the words of life; and above all, that the eyes of your understanding should be opened, your heart softened and humbled, the Savior revealed in you the hope of glory, and you enabled, perhaps, in the face of contempt and opposition, to identify with his cause and follow him fully; while probably those who heard the very same sermons, and were placed in the same circumstances with you, remain unaffected in their natural state, and are like Gallio, who “paid no attention to any of this.” (Acts 18:17) The disdain and contempt for the Gospel is evident in some by their clinging to the things of this world, in others by their openly speaking all manner of evil of the Way.

Now, to what will you ascribe the difference? Who made you to be different from another? Was it your own superior wisdom and goodness? No; you will certainly say, “By the grace of God I am what I am;” (1 Corinthians 15:10) that grace was freely bestowed, and might justly have been withheld. Not to me, O Lord; not to me, but to your name be the praise and glory of the saving change. (Psalm 115:1) Such was the language of our Lord when on earth, when the seventy disciples reported to him the success of their ministry. “In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.’” (Luke 10:21)

The sovereignty of God our Savior is apparent in the constitution and ordinances of his church. He has appointed what officers should dispense his word, and oversee its concerns. He has appointed the first day of the week instead of the seventh, to be the Christian Sabbath, for he is “Lord of the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12:8) He has ordained the preaching of his word, prayer, and praise, to be the stated branches of public worship. He has appointed Sacraments, or external representations of spiritual blessings, and he has confined these to two in number, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper; the first of these to be the badge of discipleship, showing, by the use of water, that his religion was intended for the purification of all his people; and by the bread and wine in the second, that Christ crucified, whose death we remember and exhibit, is the food and support of every believer. That Christ thus appointed the ordinances of his worship in the church, is a high instance of his sovereignty, and every Christian is, in duty and in love, bound to submit to all his appointments.

5. The sovereignty of God is obvious in his disposal of the daily affairs of men, whether as individuals or as nations.

As individuals—Our family, the circumstances of our birth, the place, the time, are all arranged by the great Ruler. The powers we possess of body and of mind; the degree of education we receive, and on which, frequently, so much in our life depends; the culture or the neglect of the mind; the relationships which we form, apparently the result not so much of choice as of what we call Accident, are all under the direction of Heaven; and so are all our concerns, whether we enjoy uninterrupted health and good spirits, or whether we drag on heavily with a sick body and a feeble mind; whether we depart the land of the living at twenty years of age or are detained in it to seventy or eighty, depends on the will of God for Jesus has “the keys of death” (Revelation 1:18) and of the invisible world. Likewise, his sovereign pleasure sets the bounds of our dwelling place; the nature of our employment in a high or low position; and the degree of prosperity or failure that will crown our labors or disappoint our hopes. Every prudent and hard working tradesman is not always successful; “the race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong.” (Ecclesiastes 9:11-12) “Exaltation,” says the wisest of men, “comes neither from the east nor from the west nor from the south.” (Psalm 75:6 NKJV) Events, that contradict all probabilities often take place to show man his dependence on a superior power; for sometimes, as we read in Hannah's song, “He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the Lord's, and on them he has set the world.” (1 Samuel 2:8)

The sovereignty of God should particularly be acknowledged by the afflicted and distressed who form a large proportion of human beings, man being “born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward.” (Job 5:7) It is so very important to know and remember what was wisely observed to patient Job, that “affliction does not come from the dust, nor does trouble sprout from the ground;” (Job 5:6) that is to say, afflictions are not the mere effect of chance, but are in the hand of God; and therefore it is added as a piece of advice to Job,—“I would seek God, and to God would I commit my cause.” (Job 5:8)—I would submit to his discipline, and seek relief from him. Even those events which seem to us random, and, as to those who are involved in them, unplanned, are under the direction of heaven; so it appears from the book of Exodus in Chapter 21, “Whoever strikes a man so that he dies shall be put to death. But if he did not lie in wait for him, but God let him fall into his hand, then I will appoint for you a place to which he may flee,” (Exodus 21:113) that is, to the city of Refuge. This proves that nothing comes by chance but the most casual events are under the control of divine sovereignty.

To the wicked, afflictions are an indication of God’s holy displeasure against their sins, and solemn warnings to run from the wrath to come; but to the children of God they are parental chastisements, the effects of tender love and wisely directed for their good. The sovereign hand of the Almighty should be acknowledged in both.

That sovereign hand is, perhaps, more visible in the affairs of nations; they rise and fall, flourish and decay, and the connection between natural causes and effects may sometimes be plainly seen; yet that the Ruler of the world directs and controls them is sufficiently evident for in his hand are both the causes and the effects.

This might be very well illustrated from the history of Israel, and other nations connected with them from their first rise in the family of Abraham to their dispersion: If we had time, a great part of the Old Testament could be cited for this purpose. God himself was pleased to illustrate this before the eyes of Jeremiah by the emblem of a potter, who easily formed a vessel of the soft clay, and just as easily broke it and formed it again into another vessel, “as it seemed good to the potter to do.” (Jeremiah 18:4) “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord?” (Jeremiah 18:6)—destroy a nation, or erect an empire?

The deceit, the envy, the revenge, the ambition of men are often the seeds of wars, and fighting, and revolutions; the agents may be wicked men, but frequently they are the mere instruments of a holy and just God in punishing an individual or a nation ripe for ruin. The agent may be wicked, but God is righteous. “With him,” said the wise and pious Job, “With him are strength and sound wisdom; the deceived and the deceiver are his. He leads counselors away stripped, and judges he makes fools. He looses the bonds of kings and binds a waistcloth on their hips. He makes nations great, and he destroys them,” (Job 12:16-18, 23) In this way God displays, in every age, his sovereign dominion over the nations,—his management of the children of men, undoing their plans, overruling their counsels, overpowering their efforts, and overcoming their opposition: and proving, to their confusion, that “in the very thing in which they behaved proudly, He was above them.” (Exodus 18:11 NKJV)

And in nothing is his sovereign power more conspicuous than in producing great and good events from the evil actions of his creatures as in the case of Joseph whose glory in Egypt was the result of the envy and cruelty of his bothers and of the lewdness and lies of Potiphar’s wife. Their actions and intentions were bad, “but God meant them for good.” (Genesis 50:20) The Sabeans and the Chaldeans pillaged Job, but the glory of God, as well as Job's greater prosperity, was ultimately promoted. Pharaoh, king of Egypt, was a tyrannical oppressor of the children of Israel who could proudly say, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice?” (Exodus 5:2) but to him God says, “for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.” (Exodus 9:16)

In a word, the greatest and most glorious event that ever took place in our world, the atoning death of Immanuel, was carried out by the most base and vile instruments. It was by the “lawless hands” of the Jews, that Jesus “was crucified and killed;” but we are assured by the apostle Peter, that even this was according to “the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.” (Acts 2:23) The holy God is not the author, or promoter of the sins of men; it is impossible that he can approve of the moral evil of any human action; but we see that, in the exercise of his sovereign rule, he not only permits wicked men to perform bad actions, but by his infinite wisdom and power brings good out of evil. The sinner is condemned. But God is righteous.

The doctrine of God’s sovereignty shows us that prompt obedience to all his precepts is our reasonable service. Is God the rightful Governor of the world!—are we his natural subjects!—has he made known his holy will to us!—and shall we not cheerfully obey him? As our Creator, we ought to obey him;—as our Preserver, we ought to obey him; and especially as our Redeemer, we ought to obey him, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery,” (Exodus 20:2) said Jehovah to Israel; and then he proceeds to lay down his law for their conduct—“You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3) And likewise he speaks to us in the Gospel, not from Sinai, but from Sion, “Because I am the Lord, and your God, and Redeemer, therefore you are bound to keep all my commandments.”

The great lesson enforced by this doctrine is, Humble submission to all his righteous will.

Is God the Sovereign of the world, infinitely wise, righteous, and good? Has he an undoubted right to do as he will with all his creatures? Then surely he has a right to do as he pleases with me. He is too wise to err; too good to be unkind. I welcome all his sovereign will, for all that will is love. He says to me, in this painful, or in that bereaving providence, “Be still, and know that I am God;” (Psalm 46:10) and in submission I will obey. I will adopt the praiseworthy language of the most patient of men, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21)

He will permit his suffering child to plead, as his only-begotten Son once did in his agony, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me;” but I hope he will strengthen me to add, with profound submission, “nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)