Who wouldst not fear Thee, O Lord God of Hosts, most high and most terrible? For
Thou art Lord alone. Thou has made heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth
and all things that are therein, and in Thy hand is the soul of every living
thing, Thou sittest king upon the flood; yea, Thou sittest king forever. Thou
art a great king over all the earth. Thou art clothed with strength; honor and
majesty are before Thee. Amen.
God’s sovereignty is the attribute by which He rules His entire creation, and to
be sovereign God must be all-knowing, all-powerful, and absolutely free. The
reasons are these:
Were there even one datum of knowledge, however small, un-known to God, His rule
would break down at that point. To be Lord over all the creation, He must
possess all knowledge. And were God lacking one infinitesimal modicum of power,
that lack would end His reign and undo His kingdom; that one stray atom of power
would belong to someone else and God would be a limited ruler and hence not
Furthermore, His sovereignty requires that He be absolutely free, which means
simply that He must be free to do whatever He wills to do anywhere at any time
to carry out His eternal purpose in every single detail without interference.
Were He less than free He must be less than sovereign.
To grasp the idea of unqualified freedom requires a vigorous effort of the mind.
We are not psychologically conditioned to understand freedom except in its
imperfect forms. Our concepts of it have been shaped in a world where no
absolute freedom exists. Here each natural object is dependent upon many other
objects, and that dependence limits its freedom.
Wordsworth at the beginning of his “Prelude” rejoiced that he had escaped the
city where he had long been pent up and was “now free, free as a bird to settle
where I will.” But to be free a bird is not to be free at all. The naturalist
knows that the supposedly free bird actually lives its entire life in a cage
made of fears, hungers, and instincts; it is limited by weather conditions,
varying air pressures, the local food supply, predatory beasts, and that
strangest of all bonds, the irresistible compulsion to stay within the small
plot of land and air assigned it by birdland comity. The freest bird is, along
with every other created thing, held in constant check by a net of necessity.
Only God is free.
God is said to be absolutely free because no one and no thing can hinder Him or
compel Him or stop Him. He is able to do as He pleases always, everywhere,
forever. To be thus free means also that He must possess universal authority.
That He has unlimited power we know from the Scriptures and may deduce from
certain other of His attributes. But what about His authority?
Even to discuss the authority of Almighty God seems a bit meaningless, and to
question it would be absurd. Can we imagine the Lord God of Hosts having to
request permission of anyone or to apply for anything to a higher body? To whom
would God go for permission? Who is higher than the Highest? Who is mightier
than the Almighty? Whose position antedates that of the Eternal? At whose throne
would God kneel? Where is the greater one to whom He must appeal? “Thus saith
the Lord the King of Israel, and his redeemer the Lord of hosts; I am the first,
and I am the last; and beside me there is no God.”
The sovereignty of God is a fact well established in the Scriptures and declared
aloud by the logic of truth. But admittedly it raises certain problems which
have not to this time been satisfactorily solved: These are mainly two. The
first is the presence in the creation of those things which God cannot approve,
such as evil, pain, and death. If God is sovereign He could have prevented their
coming into existence. Why did He not do so?
The Zend-Avesta, sacred book of Zoroastrianism, loftiest of the great
non-Biblical religions, got around this difficulty neatly enough by postulating
a theological dualism. There were two Gods, Ormazd and Ahriman, and these
between them created the world. The good Ormazd made all good things and the
evil Ahriman made the rest. It was quite simple. Ormazd had no sovereignty to
worry about, and apparently did not mind sharing his prerogatives with another.
For the Christian this explanation will not do, for it flatly contradicts the
truth taught so emphatically throughout the whole Bible, that there is one God
and that He alone created the heaven and the earth and all the things that are
therein. God’s attributes are such as to make impossible the existence of
another God. The Christian admits that he does not have the final answer to the
riddle of permitted evil. But he knows what that answer is not. And he knows
that the Zend-Avesta does not have it either.
While a complete explanation of the origin of sin eludes us, there are a few
things we do know. In His sovereign wisdom God has permitted evil to exist in
carefully restricted areas of His creation, a kind of fugitive outlaw whose
activities are temporary and limited in scope. In doing this God has acted
according to His infinite wisdom and goodness. More than that no one knows at
present; and more than that no one needs to know. The name of God is sufficient
guarantee of the perfection of His works.
Another real problem created by the doctrine of the divine sovereignty has to do
with the will of man. If God rules His universe by His sovereign decrees, how is
it possible for man to exercise free choice? And if he can not exercise freedom
of choice, how can he be held responsible for his conduct? Is he not a mere
puppet whose actions are determined by a behind-the-scenes God who pulls the
strings as it pleases Him?
The attempt to answer these questions has divided the Christian church neatly
into two camps which have borne the names of two distinguished theologians,
Jacobus Arminius and John Calvin. Most Christians are content to get into one
camp or the other and deny either sovereignty to God or free will to man. It
appears possible, however, to reconcile these two positions without doing
violence to either, although the effort that follows may prove deficient to
partisans of one camp or the other.
Here is my view: God sovereignly decreed that man should be free to exercise
moral choice, and man from the beginning has fulfilled that decree by making his
choice between good and evil. When he chooses to do evil, he does not thereby
countervail the sovereign will of God but fulfills it, inasmuch as the eternal
decree decided not which choice the man should make but that he should be free
to make it. If in His absolute freedom God has willed to give man limited
freedom, who is there to stay His hand or say, “What doest thou?” Man’s will is
free because God is sovereign. A God less than sovereign could not bestow moral
freedom upon His creatures. He would be afraid to do so.
Perhaps a homely illustration might help us to understand. An ocean liner leaves
New York bound for Liverpool. Its destination has been determined by proper
authorities. Nothing can change it. This is at least a faint picture of
On board the liner are several scores of passengers. These are not in chains,
neither are their activities determined for them by decree. They are completely
free to move about as they will. They eat, sleep, play, lounge about on the
deck, read, talk, altogether as they please; but all the while the great liner
is carrying them steadily onward toward a predetermined port.
Both freedom and sovereignty are present here and they do not contradict each
other. So it is, I believe, with man’s freedom and the sovereignty of God. The
mighty liner of God’s sovereign design keeps its steady course over the sea of
history. God moves undisturbed and unhindered toward the fulfilment of those
eternal purposes which He purposed in Christ Jesus before the world began. We do
not know all that is included in those purposes, but enough has been disclosed
to furnish us with a broad outline of things to come and to give us good hope
and firm assurance of future well-being.
We know that God will fulfil every promise made to the prophets; we know that
sinners will some day be cleansed out of the earth; we know that a ransomed
company will enter into the joy of God and that the righteous will shine forth
in the kingdom of their Father; we know that God’s perfections will yet receive
universal acclamation, that all created intelligences will own Jesus Christ Lord
to the glory of God the Father, that the present imperfect order will be done
away, and a new heaven and a new earth be established forever.
Toward all this God is moving with infinite wisdom and perfect precision of
action. No one can dissuade Him from His purposes; nothing turn Him aside from
His plans. Since He is omniscient, there can be no unforeseen circumstances, no
accidents. As He is sovereign, there can be no countermanded orders, no
breakdown in authority; and as He is ominpotent, there can be no want of power
to achieve His chosen ends. God is sufficient unto Himself for all these things.
In the meanwhile things are not as smooth as this quick outline might suggest.
The mystery of iniquity doth already work. Within the broad field of God’s
sovereign, permissive will the deadly conflict of good with evil continues with
increasing fury. God will yet have His way in the whirlwind and the storm, but
the storm and the whirlwind are here, and as responsible beings we must make our
choice in the present moral situation.
Certain things have been decreed by the free determination of God, and one of
these is the law of choice and consequences. God has decreed that all who
willingly commit themselves to His Son Jesus Christ in the obedience of faith
shall receive eternal life and become sons of God. He has also decreed that all
who love darkness and continue in rebellion against the high authority of heaven
shall remain in a state of spiritual alienation and suffer eternal death at
Reducing the whole matter to individual terms, we arrive at some vital and
highly personal conclusions. In the moral conflict now raging around us whoever
is on God’s side is on the winning side and can not lose; whoever is on the
other side is on the losing side and can not win. Here there is no chance, no
gamble. There is freedom to choose which side we shall be on but no freedom to
negotiate the results of the choice once it is made. By the mercy of God we may
repent a wrong choice and alter the consequences by making a new and right
choice. Beyond that we can not go.
The whole matter of moral choice centers around Jesus Christ. Christ stated it
plainly: “He that is not with me is against me,” and “No man cometh unto the
Father, but by me.” The gospel message embodies three distinct elements: an
announcement, a command, and a call. It announces the good news of redemption
accomplished in mercy; it commands all men everywhere to repent and it calls all
men to surrender to the terms of grace by believing on Jesus Christ as Lord and
We must all choose whether we will obey the gospel or turn away in unbelief and
reject its authority. Our choice is our own, but the consequences of the choice
have already been determined by the sovereign will of God, and from this there
is no appeal.
The Lord descended from above,
And bowed the heavens most high,
And underneath His feet He cast
The darkness of the sky.
On cherubim and seraphim
Full royally He rode,
And on the wings of mighty winds
Came flying all abroad.
He sat serene upon the floods,
Their fury to restrain;
And He, as sovereign Lord and King,
For evermore shall reign.
by Thomas Sternhold