The Sovereignty of God

As I prepare for my upcoming series on the Will of God and the Will of Man, I thought I’d offer here a word in advance on the doctrine of the Sovereignty of God.  This is from Charles Hodge’s Systematic Theology:

Sovereignty is not a property of the divine nature, but a prerogative arising out of the perfections of the Supreme Being. If God be a Spirit, and therefore a person, infinite, eternal, and immutable in his being and perfections, the Creator and Preserver of the universe, He is of right its absolute sovereign. Infinite wisdom, goodness, and power, with the right of possession, which belongs to God in all his creatures, are the immutable foundation of his dominion.

  • Psalm 115:3 “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.”
  • Daniel 4:35 “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”
  • 1 Chronicles 29:11″Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all.”
  • Psalm 24:1 “The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein.”
  • Ezekiel 18:4 “Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die.”
  • Isaiah 45:9 “Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles’?
  • Matthew 20:15 “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?”
  • Ephesians 1:11 “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.”
  • Romans 11:36 “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”

From these and similar passages of Scriptures it is plain,

  1. That the sovereignty of God is universal. It extends over all his creatures from the highest to the lowest.
  2. That it is absolute. There is no limit to be placed to his authority. He doeth his pleasure in the armies of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth.
  3. It is immutable. It can neither be ignored nor rejected. It binds all creatures, as inexorably as physical laws bind the material universe.

This sovereignty is exercised,

  1. In establishing the laws, physical and moral, by which all creatures are to be governed.
  2. In determining the nature and powers of the different orders of created beings, and in assigning each its appropriate sphere.
  3. In appointing to each individual his position and lot. It is the Lord who fixes the bounds of our habitation. Our times are in his hands. He determines when, where, and under what circumstances each individual of our race is to be born, live, and die. Nations, no less than individuals, are thus in the hands of God, who assigns them their heritage in the earth, and controls their destiny.
  4. God is no less sovereign in the distribution of his favours. He does what He wills with his own. He gives to some riches, to others, honour; to others, health; while others are poor, unknown, or the victims of disease. To some, the light of the gospel is sent; others are left in darkness. Some are brought through faith unto salvation; others perish in unbelief. To the question, Why is this? the only answer is that given by our Lord. “Even so, Father, for so it seemeth good in thy sight.”

Although this sovereignty is thus universal and absolute, it is the sovereignty of wisdom, holiness, and love. The authority of God is limited by nothing out of Himself, but it is controlled, in all its manifestations, by his infinite perfections. If a man is free and exalted, in proportion as he is governed by enlightened reason and a pure conscience, so is he supremely blessed who cheerfully submits to be governed by the infinite reason and holiness of God. This sovereignty of God is the ground of peace and confidence to all his people. They rejoice that the Lord God omnipotent reigneth; that neither necessity, nor chance, nor the folly of man, nor the malice of Satan controls the sequence of events and all their issues. Infinite wisdom, love, and power, belong to Him, our great God and Saviour, into whose hands all power in heaven and earth has been committed.

Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology. Vol. 1. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997. Print.

Revealing Wisdom in the Church

“so that through the Church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known…”
(Ephesians 3:10 ESV)

 I’m not sure how much focus I can give on this passage during my sermon on Sunday, but I can say that this particular phrase has really been hard to work out this week.  In Ephesians 3:1-13, Paul gives a brief account of his mission to the Gentiles.  He demonstrates that by the grace of God he has been charged to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, to reveal the mystery of Christ (that rather than having to become Jews, the Jews and Gentiles have become a new creation, they are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise of Christ).  In summation, “Paul says that he was given grace to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known…”

There are days when I don’t see how this is possible.  When the church is divided, how is the manifold wisdom of God made known?  When the church wanders down the path of idolatry and license for sin, how is the manifold wisdom of God made known?  When truth and falsehood are put on the same level, and it makes no difference what a man’s opinion might be; when faith and practice are separated; when that which Scripture clearly calls a sin is readily approved and embraced by the church, how is the manifold wisdom of God made known?

I guess the real question is: What is the wisdom of God?

There is a sense in which we cannot know the wisdom of God.  Paul writes in Romans 11:33 “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!”  God’s wisdom is not our wisdom, God’s thoughts are not our thoughts.  It is ludicrous to suppose that our limited, finite minds could ever grasp or try to contain the limitless and infinite mind of God our creator.  To think that we could contain or define the wisdom of God would be to reduce God and rob Him of His glory.

At the same time, God has revealed His wisdom in the person of Jesus Christ.  Consider Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 1:

But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption… (1 Corinthians 1:27–30)

Through Christ, God has shown that the wisdom of man (which equates success with strength and power, goodness with outward beauty and charm) is folly.  God chose what would be foolish in the eyes of the world, a crucified Messiah from an oppressed people, to reveal and accomplish His wisdom in righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.

And so we read in Ephesians that it is the mysterious wisdom of God that in Christ there would be a new creation, where no longer was membership in the covenant community based on heritage, gender, or social status, but by faith alone in Jesus Christ.  In the wisdom of God, the old way of life, following the passions of the flesh and the mind, has been put to death, and in exchange we have been given a new life, a sanctified life of holiness, righteousness, and godly living.  This is the manifold wisdom of God that God intends to reveal in the church today.

The question now is, has the church forgotten her charter?  How many churches have “making known the manifold wisdom of God” in their mission statement (mine doesn’t).  Instead, churches become preoccupied with social or environmental issues (which are well and good) and put the mission of proclaiming the mystery of Christ aside.  Though Christ has torn down the dividing wall of hostility, too often we find ourselves with brick and mortar in hand, letting political issues, class envy, even music preferences drive a wedge of division between us. 

The recent decision of the PC(USA) makes it extremely difficult for our church to live up to its calling to making known the manifold wisdom of God.  By removing the requirement that those who “refuse to repent of any self-acknowledge practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained” the church has obscured its message and muddied the water.  Does the gospel of Jesus Christ actually have the power to transform our lives and put to death the dominion of sin?  Does the new life in Christ look any different than the life apart from Him? 

The mystery, according to Paul, is that in Christ, those who were outside the covenant, and those who were within, have been made into a new creation.  Apparently, the mystery of the PC(USA), is that the church has lasted as long as it has while continually abandoning any sense of the authority of Scripture and the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Still, as one who believes in the sovereign and almighty God, I do not think that God has changed His mind (since he can’t) about choosing the church as the agent of revealing His wisdom.  Charles Hodge wrote, “This [passage] gives us our highest conception of the dignity of the church.  The works of God manifest his glory by being what they are.  It is because the universe is so vast, the heavens so glorious, the earth so beautiful and teeming, that they reveal the boundless affluence of their maker.  If then it is through the church God designs speedily to manifest to the highest order of intelligence, his infinite power, grace and wisdom, the church in her consummation must be the most glorious of his works.” 

When the church is at its best, it demonstrates the grace and mercy of God as we proclaim the gospel of redemption, forgiveness, and reconciliation with God and one another through Jesus Christ our savior.  When the church is beset with sin, controversy, and schism and falls short of this glorious call, she demonstrates to the world most vividly our need for the gospel to be taught and the wisdom of God to be brought to light.

God is not powerless, even today in light of all that’s taken place.  We must remain faithful to His calling, faithful to His Word, faithful to His gospel.  So do not lose heart, even this is for the glory of God.