A Simple Understanding of the Transcendence and Sovereignty of God from a Historical and Biblical Christian Context

eye-looking-up

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In the early part of the fifth century these two types of religious thought came into direct conflict in a remarkably clear contrast as embodied in two fifth-century theologians, Augustine and Pelagius.

Augustine pointed men to God as the source of all true spiritual wisdom and strength, while Pelagius instead threw men back on themselves and said that they would be able in their own strength to do all that God commanded, otherwise God would not command it. We believe that Arminianism represents something of a compromise between these two systems, including its more evangelical form, early Wesleyanism. And while Arminianism approaches the form of a religion of faith, it nevertheless does so while containing some serious elements of error.

We are living in a day in which practically all of the historic churches are being attacked from within by unbelief. Many of them have already succumbed. And almost invariably the line of descent has been from a historic, biblical Christianity to Arminianism, from Arminianism to Liberalism, and then to Unitarianism. And the history of Liberalism and Unitarianism shows that they deteriorate into a social gospel which is a system too weak to sustain itself. Therefore, we are convinced that the future of Christianity is bound up with that system of theology which goes back to its historic, and biblical roots.

Where God-centered principles of the Bible have been abandoned, there inevitably has been a strong tendency downward into the depths of man-centered naturalism or secularism. Some have declared (rightly, we believe) that there is no consistent stopping or halfway place between an orthodox Biblical Christianity and atheism.

The basic principle of Christianity is the sovereignty of God. This represents the purpose of the Triune God as absolute, unconditional, and independent of the whole finite creation, which originated solely in the eternal counsel of His will. Therefore, He appoints the course of nature and directs the course of history down to the minutest details. His decrees therefore are eternal, unchangeable, holy, wise and sovereign. They are represented in the Bible as being the evidence and basis of God’s divine foreknowledge of all future events, and that His will is not conditioned by that foreknowledge or by anything originating in the events themselves.

Every thinking person readily sees that some sovereignty rules his life. For instance, he was not asked whether or not he would have existence, or when or what or where he would be born, or whether it would be in the twentieth century or before the Flood, or even whether male or female, whether white or black, whether in the United States, or China, or Africa. All of those things were sovereignly decided for him before he had any existence. It has been recognized by Christians in all ages that God is the Creator and Ruler of the world, and that as such He is the ultimate source of all power that is found in the world. Hence nothing can come to pass apart from His sovereign will, otherwise He would not be truly GOD. And when we dwell on this truth we find that it involves considerations which establishes both the true orthodox, Biblical position,  and disproves the Arminian position.

By virtue of the fact that God has created everything that exists, He is the absolute Owner and final Disposer of all that He has made. He exerts not merely a general influence, but actually rules in the affairs of men (Acts 4:24-28). Even the nations are as the small dust of the balance when compared with His greatness (Isaiah 40:12-17).

Amid all the apparent defeats and inconsistencies of our human lives, God is actually controlling all things in undisturbed majesty. Even the sinful actions of men can occur only by His permission and with the strength that he gives the creature. And since He permits not unwillingly but willingly, then all that comes to pass – including even the sinful actions and ultimate destiny of men – must be, in some sense, in accordance with what He has eternally purposed and decreed. Just in proportion as this is denied, God is excluded from the government of the world, and we have only a finite God. Naturally, some problems arise which in our present state of knowledge we are not able fully to explain. But that is not a sufficient reason for rejecting what the Scriptures and the plain dictates of reason affirm to be true.

And shall we not believe that God can convert a sinner when He pleases? Cannot the Almighty, the omnipotent Ruler of heaven and earth, change the character of the creatures He has made? He changed the water into wine at Cana and converted Saul on the road to Damascus. The leper said, “Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean” (Mathew. 8:2). And at a word his leprosy was cleansed. Let us not believe, as do the Arminians, that God cannot control the human will, or that He cannot regenerate a soul when He pleases. He is as able to cleanse the soul as the body. If He chose He could raise up such a flood of Christian ministers, missionaries and workers of various kinds, and could so work through His Holy Spirit, that the entire world would be converted in a very short time. If He had purposed to save all men He could have sent hosts of angels to instruct them and to do supernatural works on the earth. He could have worked marvelously in the heart of every person so that no one would have been lost.

Since evil exists only by His permission, He could, if He chose, blot it out of existence. His power in this respect was shown, for instance, in the work of the destroying angel who in one night slew all of the first-born of the Egyptians (Exodus 12:29), and in another night slew 185,000 of the Assyrian army (II Kings 19:35). It was shown when the earth opened and swallowed Korah and his rebellious allies (Numbers 16.31-35). King Herod was smitten and died a horrible death (Acts 12:23). In Daniel 4:34-35 we read that the Most High God’s “dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom from generation to generation; and all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; and he doeth according to his will in the armies of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; and no one can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?”

All of this brings out the basic principle of the true, Biblical, Christian Faith – the sovereignty of God.

God created this world in which we find ourselves, He owns it, and He is running it according to His own sovereign good pleasure. God has lost none of His power, and it is highly dishonoring to Him to suppose that He is struggling along with the human race, doing the best He can to persuade men to do right, but unable to accomplish His eternal, unchangeable, holy, wise, and sovereign purpose.

Any religious system which teaches that the serious intentions of God can in some cases be defeated, and that man, who is not only a creature but a sinful creature, can exercise veto power over the plans of Almighty God, is in striking contrast to the biblical idea of his immeasurable exaltation by which He is removed from all weaknesses of humanity. That the plans of men are not always executed is due to a lack of power, or a lack of wisdom, or both.

But since God is unlimited in these and in all other resources, no unforeseen emergencies can arise. To Him the causes for change have no existence. To assume that His plan fails and that he strives to no effect is to reduce Him to the level of His creatures and make Him no God at all.

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Taken from, “The Reformed Faith,” condensed, edited and adapted with apologies for a younger, audience. 
“The Reformed Faith,”
was originally written by, Loraine Boettner in 1983.

When the Ravens Steal the Seed: A False Theology about God.

Written by Arthur W. Pink,
Taken from, “The Foreknowledge of God “

Common Raven in flightFalse theology makes God’s foreknowledge of our believing the cause of His election to salvation; whereas, God’s election is the cause, and our believing in Christ is the effect.

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“When the solemn and blessed subject of divine foreordination is expounded, when God’s eternal choice of certain ones to be conformed to the image of His Son is set forth, the enemy sends along some man to argue that election is based upon the foreknowledge of God, and this ‘foreknowledge’ is interpreted to mean that God foresaw certain ones would be more pliable than others, that they would respond more readily to the strivings of the Spirit, and that because God knew they would believe, He accordingly, predestinated them unto salvation.

But such a statement is radically wrong.

It repudiates the truth of total depravity, for it argues that there is something good in some men. It takes away the independency of God, for it makes His decrees rest upon what He discovers in the creature. It completely turns things upside down, for in saying God foresaw certain sinners would believe in Christ, and that because of this, He predestinated them unto salvation, is the very reverse of the truth. Scripture affirms that God, in His high sovereignty, singled out certain ones to be recipients of His distinguishing favours (Acts 13:48), and therefore He determined to bestow upon them the gift of faith. False theology makes God’s foreknowledge of our believing the cause of His election to salvation; whereas, God’s election is the cause, and our believing in Christ is the effect. There are those today who are misusing this very truth in order to discredit and deny the absolute sovereignty of God in the salvation of sinners, just as higher critics are repudiating the divine inspiration of the Scriptures; evolutionists, the work of God in creation; so some pseudo Bible teachers are perverting His foreknowledge in order to set aside His unconditional election unto eternal life.

The Doctrines of the Sovereignty of God are Declared and Proven

By John Owen (1616 –1683)

[I read this and I am astonished that John Owens words and evaluations are as relevant today as they were in 1678, which I believe, is the date when Owens contributed his own Forward (as elucidated below) to the third edition of Elisha Cole’s very notable work,  A Practical Discourse of God’s Sovereignty: with other Material Points deriving thence. -MWP]

The doctrines in this study [of the Sovereignty of God] are declared and proven

00000000…and have exercised the thoughts and best abilities of many learned men. The opposition made against them by the Pelagians of old, excited many good preachers and theologians to their just defense. Here they received the light and power of their truths, and the church remained in a quiet possession and belief of them for many ages.

However, lately, [some] have conspired against the doctrines of grace to overthrow them and they would have, probably, prevailed even now if the Lord had not stirred up the spirit of many and great writers to fight for the truth of His established covenant. We should notice, though recent, how zealously affected some men are in behalf of such doctrinal points that stand in direct opposition to the grace of God, and their own eternal happiness.

These men do not spare anything against those godly men who uphold the very truths that make up the mystery of godliness. These wicked men even scandalize and suppress the truths themselves as if reason and learning were given to them so that they could simply vilify the true religion of God. Also, how consistently addicted men are who have taken hold of the Arminian points, and thrive on the most fatal consequences of them. These points of error are so far away from the principles of truth that they do not yield any effectual influence towards holiness, or well-grounded peace, even though the Arminians pretend that they do. I could prove this, but I must be brief.

Whatever the ends of these men are, or their interest in defaming the wisdom, sovereignty, and grace of God, God allows it even though their ends may be wicked. God will use it all for good; the Lord’s ends in permitting them are always holy and good. We are assured that he would not put up with those dangerous errors and allow them to reinvade his church. He will not allow his glorious truths to be so roughly treated. He will order their further conquest.

Though there are many out there who would like to eradicate these truths from the earth, God will raise up men to defend them and promote true holiness and godliness.

Taken from “The Third Forward by John Owen” appended to; A Practical Discourse on God’s Sovereignty: with other Material Points deriving thenceby Elisha Coles.

Meet the author and part of your Christian heritage: John Owen (1616 – 24 August 1683) was an English Nonconformist church leader, theologian, and academic administrator at the University of Oxford.  He was briefly a member of parliament for the University, sitting in the First Protectorate Parliament of 1654 to 1655.

During his eight years of official Oxford life Owen showed himself a firm disciplinarian, thorough in his methods, though, as John Locke testifies, the Aristotelian traditions in education underwent no change. With Philip Nye he unmasked the popular astrologer, William Lilly, and in spite of his share in condemning two Quakeresses to be whipped for disturbing the peace, his rule was not intolerant. Anglican services were conducted here and there, and at Christ Church itself the Anglican chaplain remained in the college. While little encouragement was given to a spirit of free inquiry, Puritanism at Oxford was not simply an attempt to force education and culture into “the leaden moulds of Calvinistic theology.” Owen, unlike many of his contemporaries, was more interested in the New Testament than in the Old. During his Oxford years he wrote Justitia Divina (1653), an exposition of the dogma that God cannot forgive sin without an atonement; Communion with God (1657), Doctrine of the Saints’ Perseverance (1654), his final attack on Arminianism; Vindiciae Evangelicae, a treatise written by order of the Council of State against Socinianism as expounded by John Biddle; On the Mortification of Sin in Believers (1656), an introspective and analytic work; Schism (1657), one of the most readable of all his writings; Of Temptation (1658), an attempt to recall Puritanism to its cardinal spiritual attitude from the jarring anarchy of sectarianism and the pharisaism which had followed on popularity and threatened to destroy the early simplicity.

In October 1653 he was one of several ministers whom Cromwell summoned to a consultation as to church union. In December, the degree of Doctor of Divinity was conferred upon him by Oxford University. In the First Protectorate Parliament of 1654 he sat, for a short time, as the sole member of parliament for Oxford University, and, with Baxter, was placed on the committee for settling the “fundamentals” necessary for the toleration promised in the Instrument of Government. In the same year he was chairman of a committee on Scottish Church affairs. He was, too, one of the Triers, and appears to have behaved with kindness and moderation in that capacity. As vice-chancellor he acted with readiness and spirit when a Royalist rising in Wiltshire broke out in 1655; his adherence to Cromwell, however, was by no means slavish, for he drew up, at the request of Desborough and Pride, a petition against his receiving the kingship. Thus, when Richard Cromwell succeeded his father as chancellor, Owen lost his vice-chancellorship. In 1658 he took a leading part in the conference of Independents which drew up the Savoy Declaration (the doctrinal standard of Congregationalism which was based upon the Westminster Confession of Faith).

In 1669, Owen wrote a spirited remonstrance to the Congregationalists in New England, who, under the influence of Presbyterianism, had shown themselves persecutors. At home, too, he was busy in the same cause. In 1670 Samuel Parker’s Ecclesiastical Polity attacked the Nonconformists with clumsy intolerance. Owen answered him (Truth and Innocence Vindicated); Parker replied offensively. Then Andrew Marvell finally disposed of Parker with banter and satire in The Rehearsal Transposed. Owen himself produced a tract On the Trinity (1669), and Christian Love and Peace (1672).

On the revival of the Conventicle Acts in 1670, Owen was appointed to draw up a paper of reasons which was submitted to the House of Lords in protest. In this or the following year Harvard College invited him to become its president; he received similar invitations from some of the Dutch universities. When King Charles II issued his Declaration of Indulgence in 1672, Owen drew up an address of thanks; Owen was one of the first preachers at the weekly lectures which the Independents and Presbyterians jointly held at Princes’ Hall in Broad Street. He was respected by many of the nobility, and during 1674 both King Charles II and his brother King James II assured him of their good wishes to the dissenters. Charles gave him 1000 guineas to relieve those on whom the severe laws had pressed, and he was able to procure the release of John Bunyan, whose preaching he admired.