THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD
OUR ATTITUDE TOWARD GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY
"Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in Thy sight"
In the present chapter we shall consider, somewhat briefly, the practical application to ourselves of the great truth which we have pondered in its various ramifications in earlier pages. In chapter twelve we shall deal more in detail with the value of this doctrine, but here we would confine ourselves to a definition of what ought to be our attitude toward the sovereignty of God.
Every truth that is revealed to us in God’s Word is there not only for our information but also for our inspiration. The Bible has been given to us not to gratify an idle curiosity but to edify the souls of its readers. The sovereignty of God is something more than an abstract principle which explains the rationale of the Divine government: it is designed as a motive for godly fear, it is made known to us for the promotion of righteous living, it is revealed in order to bring into subjection our rebellious hearts. A true recognition of God’s sovereignty humbles as nothing else does or can humble, and brings the heart into lowly submission before God, causing us to relinquish our own self-will and making us delight in the perception and performance of the Divine will.
When we speak of the sovereignty of God we mean very much more than the exercise of God’s governmental power, though, of course, that is included in the expression. As we have remarked in an earlier chapter, the sovereignty of God means the Godhood of God. In its fullest and deepest meaning the title of this book signifies the Character and Being of the One whose pleasure is performed and whose will is executed. To truly recognize the sovereignty of God is, therefore, to gaze upon the Sovereign Himself. It is to come into the presence of the august "Majesty on High." it is to have a sight of the thrice holy God in His excellent glory. The effects of such a sight may be learned from those scriptures which describe the experience of different ones who obtained a view of the Lord God.
Mark the experience of Job—the one of whom the Lord Himself said, "There is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil" (Job 1:8). At the close of the book which bears his name we are shown Job in the Divine presence, and how does he carry himself when brought face to face with Jehovah? Hear what he says: "I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth Thee: Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:5, 6). Thus, a sight of God, God revealed in awesome majesty, caused Job to abhor himself, and not only so, but to abase himself before the Almighty.
Take note of Isaiah. In the sixth chapter of his prophecy a scene is brought before us which has few equals even in Scripture. The prophet beholds the Lord upon the Throne, a Throne, "high and lifted up." Above this Throne stood the seraphim with veiled faces, crying, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts." What is the effect of this sight upon the prophet? We read, "Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts" (Isa. 6:5). A sight of the Divine King humbled Isaiah into the dust, bringing him, as it did, to a realization of his own nothingness.
Once more. Look at the prophet Daniel. Toward the close of his life this man of God beheld the Lord in theophanic manifestation. He appeared to His servant in human form "clothed in linen" and with loins "girded with fine gold"—symbolic of holiness and Divine glory. We read that, "His body also was like the beryl, and His face as the appearance of lightning, and His eyes as lamps of fire, and His arms and His feet like in color to polished brass, and the voice of His words like the voice of a multitude." Daniel then tells the effect this vision had upon him and those who were with him—"And I Daniel alone saw the vision: for the men that were with me saw not the vision; but a great quaking fell upon them, so that they fled to hide themselves. Therefore I was left alone, and saw this great vision, and there remained no strength in me: for my comeliness was turned in me into corruption, and I retained no strength. Yet heard I the voice of His words: and when I heard the voice of His words, then was I in a deep sleep on my face, and my face toward the ground" (Dan. 10:6-9). Once more, then, we are shown that to obtain a sight of the Sovereign God is for creature strength to wither up, and results in man being humbled into the dust before his Maker. What then ought to be our attitude toward the Supreme Sovereign? We reply,
1. One of Godly fear.
Why is it that, today, the masses are so utterly unconcerned about spiritual and eternal things, and that they are lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God? Why is it that even on the battlefields multitudes were so indifferent to their soul’s welfare? Why is it that defiance of heaven is becoming more open, more blatant, more daring? The answer is, Because "There is no fear of God before their eyes" (Rom. 3:18). Again; why is it that the authority of the Scriptures has been lowered so sadly of late? Why is it that even among those who profess to be the Lord’s people there is so little real subjection to His Word, and that its precepts are so lightly esteemed and so readily set aside? Ah! what needs to be stressed to-day is that God is a God to be feared.
"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Pro. 1:7). Happy the soul that has been awed by a view of God’s majesty, that has had a vision of God’s awful greatness, His ineffable holiness, His perfect righteousness, His irresistible power, His sovereign grace. Does someone say, "But it is only the unsaved, those outside of Christ, who need to fear God"? Then the sufficient answer is that the saved, those who are in Christ, are admonished to work out their own salvation with "fear and trembling." Time was, when it was the general custom to speak of a believer as a "God-fearing man"—that such an appellation has become nearly extinct only serves to show whither we have drifted. Nevertheless, it still stands written, "Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him" (Ps. 103:13)!
When we speak of godly fear, of course, we do not mean a servile fear, such as prevails among the heathen in connection with their gods. No; we mean that spirit which Jehovah is pledged to bless, that spirit to which the prophet referred when he said, "To this man will I (the Lord) look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at My Word" (Isa. 66:2). It was this the apostle had in view when he wrote, "Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king" (1 Pet. 2:17). And nothing will foster this godly fear like a recognition of the sovereign Majesty of God.
What ought to be our attitude toward the Sovereignty of God? We answer again,
2. One of Implicit Obedience.
A sight of God leads to a realization of our littleness and nothingness, and issues in a sense of dependency and of casting ourselves upon God. Or, again; a view of the Divine Majesty promotes the spirit of godly fear and this, in turn, begets an obedient walk. Here then is the Divine antidote for the native evil of our hearts. Naturally, man is filled with a sense of his own importance, with his greatness and self-sufficiency; in a word, with pride and rebellion. But, as we remarked, the great corrective is to behold the Mighty God, for this alone will really humble him. Man will glory either in himself or in God. Man will live either to serve and please himself, or he will seek to serve and please the Lord. None can serve two masters.
Irreverence begets disobedience. Said the haughty monarch of Egypt, "Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I know not the Lord; neither will I let Israel go" (Ex. 5:2). To Pharaoh, the God of the Hebrews was merely a god, one among many, a powerless entity who needed not to be feared or served. How sadly mistaken he was, and how bitterly he had to pay for his mistake, he soon discovered; but what we are here seeking to emphasize is that, Pharaoh’s defiant spirit was the fruit of irreverence, and this irreverence was the consequence of his ignorance of the majesty and authority of the Divine Being.
Now if irreverence begets disobedience, true reverence will produce and promote obedience. To realize that the Holy Scriptures are a revelation from the Most High, communicating to us His mind and defining for us His will, is the first step toward practical godliness. To recognize that the Bible is God’s Word, and that its precepts are the precepts of the Almighty, will lead us to see what an awful thing it is to despise and ignore them. To receive the Bible as addressed to our own souls, given to us by the Creator Himself, will cause us to cry with the Psalmist, "Incline my heart unto Thy testimonies. . . .Order my steps in Thy Word" (Ps. 119:36, 133). Once the sovereignty of the Author of the Word is apprehended, it will no longer be a matter of picking and choosing from the precepts and statutes of that Word, selecting those which meet with our approval; but it will be seen that nothing less than an unqualified and whole-hearted submission becomes the creature.
What ought to be our attitude toward the Sovereignty of God? We answer, once more,
3. One of entire resignation.
A true recognition of God’s Sovereignty will exclude all murmuring. This is self-evident, yet the thought deserves to be dwelt upon. It is natural to murmur against afflictions and losses. It is natural to complain when we are deprived of those things upon which we had set our hearts. We are apt to regard our possessions as ours unconditionally. We feel that when we have prosecuted our plans with prudence and diligence that we are entitled to success; that when by dint of hard work we have accumulated a ‘competence,’ we deserve to keep and enjoy it; that when we are surrounded by a happy family, no power may lawfully enter the charmed circle and strike down a loved one; and if in any of these cases disappointment, bankruptcy, death, actually comes, the perverted instinct of the human heart is to cry out against God. But in the one who, by grace, has recognized God’s sovereignty, such murmuring is silenced, and instead, there is a bowing to the Divine will, and an acknowledgment that He has not afflicted us as sorely as we deserve.
A true recognition of God’s sovereignty will avow God’s perfect right to do with us as He wills. The one who bows to the pleasure of the Almighty will acknowledge His absolute right to do with us as seemeth Him good. If He chooses to send poverty, sickness, domestic bereavements, even while the heart is bleeding at every pore, it will say, Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right! Often there will be a struggle, for the carnal mind remains in the believer to the end of his earthly pilgrimage. But though there may be a conflict within his breast, nevertheless, to the one who has really yielded himself to this blessed truth, there will presently be heard that Voice saying, as of old it said to the turbulent Gennesareth, "Peace be still"; and the tempestuous flood within will be quieted and the subdued soul will lift a tearful but confident eye to heaven and say, "Thy will be done."
A striking illustration of a soul bowing to the sovereign will of God is furnished by the history of Eli the high priest of Israel. In 1 Samuel 3 we learn how God revealed to the young child Samuel that He was about to slay Eli’s two sons for their wickedness, and on the morrow Samuel communicates this message to the aged priest. It is difficult to conceive of more appalling intelligence for the heart of a pious parent. The announcement that his child is going to be stricken down by sudden death is, under any circumstances, a great trial to any father, but to learn that his two sons—in the prime of their manhood, and utterly unprepared to die—were to be cut off by a Divine judgment, must have been overwhelming. Yet, what was the effect upon Eli when he learned from Samuel the tragic tidings? What reply did he make when he heard the awful news? "And he said, It is the Lord: let Him do what seemeth Him good" (1 Sam. 3:18). And not another word escaped him. Wonderful submission! Sublime resignation! Lovely exemplification of the power of Divine grace to control the strongest affections of the human heart and subdue the rebellious will, bringing it into unrepining acquiescence to the sovereign pleasure of Jehovah.
Another example, equally striking, is seen in the life of Job. As is well known, Job was one that feared God and eschewed evil. If ever there was one who might reasonably expect Divine providence to smile upon him—we speak as a man—it was Job. Yet, how fared it with him? For a time, the lines fell unto him in pleasant places. The Lord filled his quiver by giving him seven sons and three daughters. He prospered him in his temporal affairs until he owned great possessions. But of a sudden, the sun of life was hidden behind dark clouds. In a single day Job lost not only his flocks and herds, but his sons and daughters as well. News arrived that his cattle had been carried off by robbers, and his children slain by a cyclone. And how did he receive this intelligence? Hearken to his sublime words: "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away." He bowed to the sovereign will of Jehovah. He traced his afflictions back to their First Cause. He looked behind the Sabeans who had stolen his cattle, and beyond the winds that had destroyed his children, and saw the hand of God. But not only did Job recognize God’s sovereignty, he rejoiced in it, too. To the words, "The Lord gave, and the Lord bath taken away," he added, "Blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 1:21). Again we say, Sweet submission! Sublime resignation!
A true recognition of God’s sovereignty causes us to hold our every plan in abeyance to God’s will. The writer well recalls an incident which occurred in England over twenty years ago. Queen Victoria was dead, and the date for the coronation of her eldest son, Edward, had been set for April 1902. In all the announcements which were sent out, two little letters were omitted—D. V.—Deo Volente: God willing. Plans were made and all arrangements completed for the most imposing celebrations that England had ever witnessed. Kings and emperors from all parts of the earth had received invitations to attend the royal ceremony. The Prince’s proclamations were printed and displayed, but, so far as the writer is aware, the letters D. V. were not found on a single one of them. A most imposing program had been arranged, and the late Queen’s eldest son was to be crowned Edward the Seventh at Westminster Abbey at a certain hour on a fixed day. And then God intervened, and all man’s plans were frustrated. A still small voice was heard to say, "You have reckoned without Me," and Prince Edward was stricken down with appendicitis, and his coronation postponed for months!
As remarked, a true recognition of God’s sovereignty causes us to hold our plans in abeyance to God’s will. It makes us recognize that the Divine Potter has absolute power over the clay and moulds it according to his own imperial pleasure. It causes us to heed that admonition—now, alas! so generally disregarded—"Go to now, ye that say, Today or tomorrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that" (James 4:13-15). Yes, it is to the Lord’s will we must bow. It is for Him to say where I shall live—whether in America or Africa. It is for Him to determine under what circumstances I shall live—whether amid wealth or poverty, whether in health or sickness. It is for Him to say how long I shall live—whether I shall be cut down in youth like the flower of the field, or whether I shall continue for three score and ten years. To really learn this lesson is, by grace, to attain unto a high form in the school of God, and even when we think we have learnt it, we discover, again and again, that we have to relearn it.
4. One if deep thankfulness and joy.
The heart’s apprehension of this most blessed truth of the sovereignty of God, produces something far different than a sullen bowing to the inevitable. The philosophy of this perishing world knows nothing better than to "make the best of a bad job". But with the Christian it should be far other wise. Not only should the recognition of God’s supremacy beget within us godly fear, implicit obedience, and entire resignation, but it should cause us to say with the Psalmist, "Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless His holy name". Does not the apostle say, "Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Eph. 5:20)? Ah, it is at this point the state of our souls is so often put to the test. Alas, there is so much self-will in each of us. When things go as we wish them, we appear to be very grateful to God; but what of those occasions when things go contrary to our plans and desires?
We take it for granted when the real Christian takes a train-journey that, upon reaching his destination, he devoutly returns thanks unto God—which, of course, argues that He controls everything; otherwise, we ought to thank the engine-driver, the stoker, the signalmen etc. Or, if in business, at the close of a good week, gratitude is expressed unto the Giver of every good (temporal) and of every perfect (spiritual) gift—which again, argues that He directs all customers to your shop. So far, so good. Such examples occasion no difficulty. But imagine the opposites. Suppose my train was delayed for hours, did I fret and fume; suppose another train ran into it, and I am injured! Or, suppose I have had a poor week in business, or that lightning struck my shop and set it on fire, or that burglars broke in and rifled it—then what: do I see the hand of God in these things?
Take the case of Job once more. When loss after loss came his way, what did he do? Bemoan his "bad luck"? Curse the robbers? Murmur against God? No; he bowed before Him in worship. Ah, dear reader, there is no real rest for your poor heart until you learn to see the hand of God in everything. But for that, faith must be in constant exercise. And what is faith? A blind credulity? A fatalistic acquiescence? No, far from it. Faith is a resting on the sure Word of the living God, and therefore says, "We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose" (Rom. 8:28); and therefore faith will give thanks "always for all things". Operative faith will "Rejoice in the Lord alway" (Phil. 4:4).
We turn now to mark how this recognition of God’s sovereignty which is expressed in godly fear, implicit obedience, entire resignation, and deep thankfulness and joy was supremely and perfectly exemplified by the Lord Jesus Christ.
In all things the Lord Jesus has left us an example that we should follow His steps. But is this true in connection with the first point made above? Are the words "godly fear" ever linked with His peerless name? Remembering that ‘godly fear’ signifies not a servile terror, but rather a filial subjection and reverence, and remembering too that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom," would it not rather be strange if no mention at all were made of godly fear in connection with the One who was wisdom incarnate! What a wonderful and precious word is that of Hebrews 5:7—"Who in the days of His flesh, having offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death, and having been heard for His godly fear" (R. V.). What was it but ‘godly fear’ which caused the Lord Jesus to be "subject" unto Mary and Joseph in the days of His childhood? Was it not ‘godly fear’—a filial subjection to and reverence for God—that we see displayed, when we read, "And He came to Nazareth where He had been brought up: and, as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day" (Luke 4:16)? Was it not ‘godly fear’ which caused the incarnate Son to say, when tempted by Satan to fall down and worship him, "It is written, thou shalt worship the Lord thy God and Him only shalt thou serve"? Was it not ‘godly fear’ which moved Him to say to the cleansed leper, "Go thy way, shew thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded" (Matt. 8:4)? But why multiply illustrations?  How perfect was the obedience that the Lord Jesus offered to God the Father! And in reflecting upon this let us not lose sight of that wondrous grace which caused Him, who was in the very form of God, to stoop so low as to take upon Him the form of a Servant, and thus be brought into the place where obedience was becoming. As the perfect Servant He yielded complete obedience to His Father. How absolute and entire that obedience was we may learn from the words, He "became obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross" (Phil. 2:8). That this was a conscious and intelligent obedience is clear from His own language—"Therefore doth My Father love Me, because I lay down My life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received from My Father" (John 10:17, 18).
And what shall we say of the absolute resignation of the Son to the Father’s will—what, but, between Them there was entire oneness of accord. Said He, "For I came down from heaven, not to do Mine own will, but the will of Him that sent Me" (John 6:38), and how fully He substantiated that claim all know who have attentively followed His path as marked out in the Scriptures. Behold Him in Gethsemane! The bitter ‘cup,’ held in the Father’s hand, is presented to His view. Mark well His attitude. Learn of Him who was meek and lowly in heart. Remember that there in the Garden we see the Word become flesh—a perfect Man. His body is quivering at every nerve, in contemplation of the physical sufferings which await Him; His holy and sensitive nature is shrinking from the horrible indignities which shall be heaped upon Him; His heart is breaking at the awful "reproach" which is before Him; His spirit is greatly troubled as He foresees the terrible conflict with the Power of Darkness; and above all, and supremely, His soul is filled with horror at the thought of being separated from God Himself—thus and there He pours out His soul to the Father, and with strong crying and tears He sheds, as it were, great drops of blood. And now observe and listen. Still the beating of thy heart, and hearken to the words which fall from His blessed lips—"Father, if Thou be willing, remove this cup from Me: nevertheless, not My will, but Thine be done" (Luke 22:42). Here is submission personified. Here is resignation to the pleasure of a sovereign God superlatively exemplified. And He has left us an example that we should follow His steps. He who was God became man, and was tempted in all points like as we are—sin apart—to show us how to wear our creature nature!
Above we asked, What shall we say of Christ’s absolute resignation to the Father’s will? We answer further, This,—that here, as everywhere, He was unique, peerless. In all things He has the pre-eminence. In the Lord Jesus there was no rebellious will to be broken. In His heart there was nothing to be subdued. Was not this one reason why, in the language of prophecy, He said, "I am a worm, and no man" (Ps. 22:6)—a worm has no power of resistance! It was because in Him there was no resistance that He could say, "My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me" (John 4:34). Yea, it was because He was in perfect accord with the Father in all things that He said, "I delight to do Thy will, O God; yea, Thy law is within My heart" (Ps. 40:8). Note the last clause here and behold His matchless excellency. God has to put His laws into our minds, and write them in our hearts (see Heb. 8:10), but His law was already in Christ’s heart!
What a beautiful and striking illustration of Christ’s thankfulness and joy is found in Matthew 11. There we behold, first, the failure in the faith of His forerunner (vv. 22, 23). Next, we learn of the discontent of the people: satisfied neither with Christ’s joyous message, nor with John’s solemn one (vv. 16-20). Third, we have the non-repentance of those favored cities in which our Lord’s mightiest works were done (vv. 21-24). And then we read, "At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes" (v. 25)! Note the parallel passage in Luke 10:21 opens by saying, "In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank Thee" etc. Ah, here was submission in its purest form. Here was One by which the worlds were made, yet, in the days of His humiliation, and in the face of His rejection, thankfully and joyously bowing to the will of the "Lord of heaven and earth".
What ought to be our attitude towards God’s sovereignty? Finally,
5. One of adoring worship.
It has been well said that "true worship is based upon recognized GREATNESS, and greatness is superlatively seen in Sovereignty, and at no other footstool will men really worship" (J. B. Moody). In the presence of the Divine King upon His throne even the seraphim ‘veil their faces.’
Divine sovereignty is not the sovereignty of a tyrannical Despot, but the exercised pleasure of One who is infinitely wise and good! Because God is infinitely wise He cannot err, and because He is infinitely righteous He will not do wrong. Here then is the preciousness of this truth. The mere fact itself that God’s will is irresistible and irreversible fills me with fear, but once I realize that God wills only that which is good, my heart is made to rejoice.
Here then is the final answer to the question of this chapter—What ought to be our attitude toward the sovereignty of God? The becoming attitude for us to take is that of godly fear, implicit obedience, and unreserved resignation and submission. But not only so: the recognition of the sovereignty of God, and the realization that the Sovereign Himself is my Father, ought to overwhelm the heart and cause me to bow before Him in adoring worship. At all times I must say, "Even so, Father, for so it seemeth good in Thy sight." We conclude with an example which well illustrates our meaning.
Some two hundred years ago the saintly Madam Guyon, after ten years spent in a dungeon lying far below the surface of the ground, lit only by a candle at meal-times, wrote these words,
"A little bird I am,
Shut from the fields of air;
Yet in my cage I sit and sing
To Him who placed me there;
Well pleased a prisoner to he,
Because, my God, it pleases Thee.
Nought have I else to do
I sing the whole day long;
And He whom most I love to please,
Doth listen to my song;
He caught and bound my wandering wing
But still He bends to hear me sing.
My cage confines me round;
Abroad I cannot fly;
But though my wing is closely bound,
My heart’s at liberty.
My prison walls cannot control
The flight, the freedom of the soul.
Ah! it is good to soar
These bolts and bars above,
To Him whose purpose I adore,
Whose Providence I love;
And in Thy mighty will to find
The joy, the freedom of the mind."
 Note how Old Testament prophecy also declared that “the Spirit of the Lord” should “rest upon Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord” (Isa.11:1,2).