The Sovereignty of God

by William J. Stewart

The sovereignty of God is a vital Bible doctrine. In fact, one’s understanding (or lack thereof) of God’s sovereignty will shape the rest of his religious convictions. What you believe of God’s sovereignty will determine how you understand the inherent nature of man, whether man has free will or not, how and who can become a child of God, etc.. A false concept of sovereignty will inevitably corrupt one’s understanding of these and other Bible doctrines. Thus, it is important to consider and comprehend what the Bible says about God’s sovereignty.

Of God’s sovereignty, one writer explains:

There is not a single thing in the universe that is not controlled by God … If God promises to do something, yet there are some people around who are not controlled by God, then those people could thwart God’s promise. God must be in control of every single thing.1

The Westminster Confession of Faith states:

God from all eternity did by the most and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass…

And again:

God the great Creator of all things does uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least...2

It sounds impressive to say that God is “in control of every single thing,” and that “whatsoever comes to pass … from the greatest even to the least…” is ordained by God. However, there is a serious consequence to such a position regarding the sovereignty of God. If God absolutely controls every person and every single thing, then God becomes responsible for sin, and sin in fact becomes part of the will of God!

Those who have at times said of sin, “The devil made me do it,” if they adhere to this false concept of sovereignty should rather say, “God made me do it!” What a blasphemous concept of God’s sovereignty!

If God is “…in control of every single thing … from the greatest to the least…”, then we must of necessity attribute wickedness to God. To the woman who was beaten black and blue by her husband last night, be happy, for God was in control of every blow! To the family who lost their daughter to a drunk driver last weekend, why be sad? It was God  who turned the wheel in her direction. To the woman and child who are left to fend for themselves because he stepped out to go live with another woman, hey, that’s OK, God sent him to her! What a blasphemous doctrine this false concept of sovereignty is!

Mr. Carpenter makes no apologies or exceptions in his version of sovereignty; but the Westminster does. The quote above continues:

…yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.2

What double talk is this? God has “…freely and unchangeably ordained..” everything, but He is not responsible for sin? I can certainly understand not wanting to attribute sin to God, but it cannot be both ways. If everything “…from the greatest even to the least..” is ordained of God, then nothing is excluded, even sin. You cannot have your cake and eat it too.

Understand, the Bible does not characterize God’s sovereignty as Him controlling and causing everything that happens. It is a completely false idea that all things must at all times conform to His will for Him to be sovereign. Sovereignty is defined as:

1 : obsolete : supreme excellence or an example of it
2 a : supreme power especially over a body politic
b : freedom from external control : autonomy
c : controlling influence
3 : one that is sovereign; especially : an autonomous state3

God is sovereign; that is an inherent fact, for He is Creator, Sustainer, Saviour, and Judge—He is the Almighty. Our adherence of lack thereof to His will neither adds to nor subtracts from His sovereignty.

2 Peter 3:9 tells us that God “…is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” Do ALL come to repentance? Hardly. The Lord plainly told us that there are few who are saved (Matthew 7:13-14). When God’s people of old offered their children to the Baals, was God controlling and causing them to do so? What did He say? “And they have built the high places of Tophet, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into My heart (Jeremiah 7:31; cf. 19:5; 32:35).

Carpenter fears that if “…there are some people around who are not controlled by God, then those people could thwart God’s promise.” What a weak and futile understanding of God Carpenter holds.. The God of the Bible is not threatened nor thwarted by man’s free will. Joseph’s brothers, from envy and strife sold him into slavery. They intended to do evil to him. God does not temple men to do evil (James 1:13). It was not God who motivated them to sell him to slave traders, it was their own selfish desires.. Their evil plan did not thwart the plan of God. He took what they did, and accomplished His will through it (Genesis 50:20). What about Israel’s desire for a king? Was that God’s will? No, for the Lord said to Samuel, “…they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them” (1 Samuel 8:7). Surely it wasn’t God’s will that His own people reject Him. But, His sovereignty was not compromised. He still accomplished His promised will (Genesis 49:8-10).

Friend, it is so important that we understand correctly the sovereignty of God. Those who misunderstand His sovereignty will also misunderstand His dealings with mankind, denying that man is a free moral agent, and rejecting plain Bible teachings, even the most basic of commands for man to turn from sin unto righteousness. The Bible speaks of such as our responsibility and indicates that we are able; the Calvinistic concept of sovereignty will still affirm that we are responsible, but denies that we are able. What a monster God they have created. The God of the Bible is not so.

  1. Essential Gospel Doctrine, Marc D. Carpenter,
  2. Westminster Confession of Faith, Ch. III, Sect I; Ch. V, Sect I.
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