102. What is the Sovereignty of God?

The Sovereignty of God is an expression that a core belief for both Christians and Muslims. It’s a phrase commonly used in religious literature. This doctrine is central to the history of the great ‘One God’ religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islâm. God is viewed as the interpreter of Providence, the inspiration of Scripture, and the mastermind behind prophecy. How could the prophecy of Isaiah be so incredibly accurate in its fulfilment in the life of Jesus Christ if God was not Sovereign? The Sovereignty of God is the foundation of Christian theology and should not be misunderstood or marginalised to the periphery.

In Chronicles 29 verse 11 we read: ‘Thine, O LORD, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is Thine; Thine is the kingdom, O LORD, and Thou art exalted as Head above all.’

What does the term the Sovereignty of God mean? It means the supremacy of God, the kingship of God, and the integrity of the character of God being the Creator of all things! To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that God is God. To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the Most High, doing according to His will in the army of Heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth, so that none can stay His hand or say unto Him what doest Thou? (Dan. 4:35). To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the Almighty, the Possessor of all power in Heaven and earth, so that none can defeat His counsels, thwart His purpose, or resist His will (Psa. 115:3). To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is ‘The Governor among the nations’ (Psa. 22:28), setting up kingdoms, overthrowing evil empires, and determining the course of dynasties as it pleases Him. To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the ‘Only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords’ (1 Tim. 6:15). Such is the God of the Bible and the Qur’an.

One of God’s unchangeable attributes is His Omnipotence. Sin has not thwarted the purposes of God. The writer of Psalms (The Zabur) King David said: ‘Surely the wrath of man shall praise Thee: the remainder of wrath shalt Thou restrain’ (Psa. 76:10). To deny the Sovereignty of God is to enter upon a path which, if followed to its logical terminus, is to arrive at blank atheism and sadly many today who are disillusioned with the events of the modern world have lost faith and hope in the Sovereignty of God and turned to atheism and a remedy for their despair only to find even greater despair in the absence of faith and hope in the Sovereignty of God.

The Sovereignty of the God of Scripture is absolute, irresistible, infinite. When we say that God is Sovereign we affirm His right to govern the universe which He has made for His own glory, just as He pleases. We affirm that His right is the right of the Potter over the clay, i. e., that He may mold that clay into whatever form He chooses, fashioning out of the same lump one vessel unto honour and another unto dishonour. We affirm that He is under no rule or law outside of His own will and nature, that God is the author of law. Sovereignty characterises the whole Being of God. He is Sovereign in all His attributes. He is Sovereign in the exercise of His power. His power is exercised as He wills, when He wills, where He wills consistent with His character. ‘God is not a man that He should lie, nor the son of man, that He should repent: He has said and will He not do it?’ (Numbers 23 v 19 NASB). A. W. Pink a noted Reformed theologian and scholar says that this fact is evidenced on every page of Scripture. For a long season that power appears to be dormant, and then it is put forth in irresistible might. Pharaoh dared to hinder Israel from going forth to worship Jehovah in the wilderness-what happened? God exercised His power, His people were delivered and their cruel taskmasters slain. But a little later, the Amalekites dared to attack these same Israelites in the wilderness, and what happened? Did God put forth His power on this occasion and display His hand as He did at the Red Sea? Were these enemies of His people promptly overthrown and destroyed? No, on the contrary, ‘The Lord sworn that He would ‘have war with Amalek from generation to generation’ (Exodus 17:16 NASB). Again, when Israel entered the land of Canaan, God’s power was signally displayed. The city of Jericho barred their progress-what happened? Israel did not draw a bow nor strike a blow: the Lord stretched forth His hand and the walls fell down flat. But the miracle was never repeated! No other city fell after this manner. Every other city had to be captured by the sword!

Many other instances might be adduced illustrating the Sovereign exercise of God’s power. Take one other example. God put forth His power and David was delivered from Goliath, the giant; the mouths of the lions were closed and Daniel escaped unhurt; the three Hebrew children were cast into the burning fiery furnace and came forth unharmed and no smell of smoke was found in them. But God’s power did not always interpose for the deliverance of His people, for we read: ‘And others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment: they were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, illtreated’ (Heb. 11:36, 37 NASB). But why? Why were not these men of faith delivered like the others? Or, why were not the others suffered to be killed like these? Why should God’s power interpose and rescue some and not the others? Why allow Stephen to be stoned to death, and then deliver Peter from prison?

God is Sovereign in the delegation of His power to others. Why did God endow Methuselah with a vitality which enabled him to outlive all his contemporaries? Why did God impart to Samson a physical strength which no other human has ever possessed? Again; it is written, ‘But you shall remember the Lord thy God: for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth’ (Deut. 8:18, NASB), God does not bestow this power on all alike. Why not? The answer to all of these questions is, ‘Because God is Sovereign, and being Sovereign He does as He pleases.’

God is Sovereign in the exercise of His mercy. Necessarily so, for mercy is directed by the will of Him that shows mercy. Mercy is not a right to which man is entitled. Mercy is that amazing attribute of God by which He pities and relieves and empowers the sinner. The objects of mercy, are those who are miserable, and all misery is the result of sin, hence the miserable are deserving of punishment not mercy. To speak of deserving mercy is a contradiction of terms.

God bestows His mercies on whom He pleases and withholds them as it seems good unto Himself. God said to Moses, ‘I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.’ (Exodus 33:19, RSV)

The Sovereign exercise of God’s mercy-pity shown to the sinner, was displayed when Jehovah became flesh and tabernacled among men. Take one illustration. During one of the Feasts of the Jews, the Lord Jesus went up to Jerusalem. He came to the Pool of Bethesda where lay ‘Crowds of sick people— blind, lame, or paralysed—lay on the porches. One of the men lying there had been sick for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, ‘Would you like to get well? I can’t, sir,’ the sick man said, ‘or I have no one to put me into the pool when the water bubbles up. Someone else always gets there ahead of me.’ Jesus told him, ‘Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!’ Instantly, the man was healed! He rolled up his sleeping mat and began walking! But this miracle happened on the Sabbath, (John 5:3-9 NASB). Why was this one man singled out from all the others? We are not told that he cried ‘Lord, have mercy on me.’ There is not a word in the narrative which intimates that this man possessed any qualifications which entitled him to receive special favour. Here then was a case of the Sovereign exercise of Divine mercy, for it was just as easy for Christ to heal the whole of that ‘great multitude’ as this one ‘certain man.’ But He did not. He put forth His power and relieved the wretchedness of this one particular sufferer, and for some reason known only to Himself, He declined to do the same for the others. Again, we read in Romans 9:15 (NASB), For God said to Moses, ‘I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose.’

God is Sovereign in the exercise of His love. ‘No one can receive anything unless God gives it from heaven’.(John 3:27, NASB). When we say that God is Sovereign in the exercise of His love, we mean that He loves whom He chooses. God does not love everybody; if He did, He would love the Devil. Why does God not love the Devil? Because there is nothing in him to love; because there is nothing in him to attract the heart of God. Nor is there anything to attract God’s love in any of the fallen sons of Adam, for all of them are, by nature, ‘children of wrath’ (Eph. 2:3). If then there is nothing in any member of the human race to attract God’s love and if He does love some, then it necessarily follows that the cause of His love must be found in Himself, which is only another way of saying that the exercise of God’s love towards sinners is according to His own good pleasure.

In the final analysis, the exercise of God’s love must be according to His Sovereignty or, otherwise, He would love by rule; and if He loved by rule, then is He under a law of love, and if He is under a law of love then is He not Supreme, but is Himself ruled by law. ‘But, ‘it may be asked, ‘Surely we do not deny that God loves the entire human family?’ The reply is written, ‘Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated’ (Rom. 9:13, NASB ). If then God loved Jacob and hated Esau, and that before they were born or had done either good or evil, then the reason for His love was not in them, but in Himself.

The exercise of God’s love is according to His own Sovereign pleasure is also clear from the language of Ephesians 1:3-5, where we read, ‘All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ.’ This is what He wanted to do, and it gave Him great pleasure.We are not unmindful of the fact that men have invented the distinction between God’s love of complacency and His love of compassion, but this is an invention pure and simple. Scripture terms the latter, God’s ‘pity’ (see Matt. 18:33), “Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked.’

God is Sovereign in the exercise of His grace. This is of necessity, for grace is favour shown to the undeserving, even to the Hell-deserving. Grace is the antithesis of justice. Justice demands the impartial enforcement of law. Justice requires that each shall receive his legitimate due, neither more nor less. Justice bestows no favours and is no respecter of persons. Justice, as such, shows no pity and knows no mercy. But after justice has been fully satisfied, grace flows forth. Divine grace is not exercised at the expense of justice, but ‘that is sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord’ (Rom. 5:21, NASB). If grace ‘reigns’ then is grace Sovereign.

Grace has been defined as the unmerited favour of God; and if unmerited, then none can claim it as their inalienable right. If grace is unearned and undeserved, then none are entitled to it. If grace is a gift, then none can demand it. Therefore, as salvation is by grace, the free gift of God, then He bestows it on whom He pleases. Because salvation is by grace, the very chief of sinners is not beyond the reach of Divine mercy. Because salvation is by grace, boasting is excluded and God gets all the glory.

The Sovereign exercise of grace is illustrated throughout the Scriptures. The Gentiles are left to walk in their own ways while Israel becomes the covenant people of Jehovah. Ishmael the firstborn is cast out comparatively unblessed until Abraham pleaded with God to bless him in Genesis 17:18-20, and Genesis 21:20: while Isaac the son of his parents’ old age is made the child of the covenant of promise. Esau the generous-hearted and forgiving-spirited is denied the firstborn’s blessing, though he sought it carefully with tears, while the womb Jacob receives the inheritance and is fashioned into a vessel of honour. So in the New Testament. Divine Truth is hidden from the wise and prudent, but is revealed to babes. In the New Testament the elite and the Pharisees and Sadducees went away sorrowful at the prospect of ‘unmerited favour’. The publicans and harlots are drawn by the extravagant love of God.

In a remarkable manner Divine grace was exercised at the time of the Saviour’s birth. The incarnation of God’s Son was one of the greatest events in the history of the universe, and yet its actual occurrence was not made known to all mankind; instead, it was specially revealed to the Bethlehem shepherds and wise men of the East. And this was prophetic and indicative of the entire course of the time we live in, for even today Christ is not made known to all. It would have been an easy matter for God to have sent a company of angels to every nation and to have announced the birth of His Son. But He did not. God could have readily attracted the attention of all mankind to the ‘star’; but He did not. Why? Because God is Sovereign and dispenses His favours as He pleases. It is interesting to note the two classes to whom the birth of the Saviour was made known, namely, the most unlikely classes – illiterate shepherds in the hills and heathen stargazers from a far country. No angel stood before the Sanhedrin and announced the advent of Israel’s Messiah! No ‘star’ appeared unto the scribes and lawyers as they, in their pride and self-righteousness, searched the Scriptures! They searched diligently to find out where He should be born, and yet it was not made known to them when He was actually come. What a display of Divine Sovereignty-the illiterate shepherds singled out for peculiar honour, and the learned and eminent passed by! And why was the birth of the Saviour revealed to these foreigners, and not to those in whose midst He was born? See in this a wonderful foreshadowing of God’s dealings with our race throughout the entire Christian dispensation – Sovereign in the exercise of His grace, bestowing His favours on whom He pleases, often on the most unlikely and unworthy.

God’s Sovereignty was signally displayed in His choice of the place where His Son was born. Not to Greece or Italy did the Lord of Glory come, but to the insignificant land of Palestine! Not in Jerusalem – the royal city – was Immanuel born, but in Bethlehem, which was ‘little among the thousands (of towns and villages) in Judah’ (Micah 5:2)! And it was in despised Nazareth that He grew up! Truly, God’s ways are not ours. He is the Sovereign Lord.

God’s sovereignty is remarkable for mankind. Mankind can completely trust in the Sovereignty of God. God is a God of justice and mercy. The Qur’an calls God/Allâh ‘the Most Gracious and Merciful’, Surah 1 ayah 1 while at the same time upholding His absolute Sovereignty of all things. Every Surah starts with this announcement that Allâh is the Most Gracious and Merciful. The Qur’an in Surah ‘Maryam’ 19 ayat 30, states that Jesus said: ‘I am a slave of Allâh: He hath given me revelation and made me a prophet.’ Jesus trusted in the Sovereignty of God. His life was completely in God’s hands. As the ‘slave’ or ‘servant’ of Allâh Jesus obeyed God completely in everything he did. He was One with God in his every action. Even when He was being tempted by the Devil in the wilderness in Matthew 4 verses 1-11, He replied to the Devil with the power of God’s word the Scripture.

In the Qur’an the Sovereignty of Allâh is expressed in Surah 2 Al Baqarah ayah 107 ‘Know you not that to Allâh belongs the dominion of heavens and the earth? and besides Him you have neither patron or helper.’ in Surah 3 Ali’ Imran ayah 26 it states: ‘Say: O Allâh! Lord of Power You give Power to who you please and strips power from whom you please, and you give honour to to whom you please and brings low whom you please. In Your hand is all Good. Truly over all things you have Power.’ in Surah 5 Al Ma’idah ayah 40 it states: ‘ Know you not, that to Allâh belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth, He punishes whom He pleases and forgives who He please. Allâh has Power over all things.’ In Surah 9 ayah 116 it states: ‘Unto Allâh belongs the dominion in the heavens, and the earth. He gives life and He takes it. Except for Him you have no protector or helper.’

Most Muslims add to their statements about what they intend to do in the future the word ‘Inshallâh’ meaning, ‘if Allâh wills it or Allâh willing or with Allâh’s permission’. Most Muslims are continually conscious of Allâh’s guiding hand in their lives.