Friday, June 28, 2002

Sovereignty of God

Jeffrey Collins raised some questions about yesterday’s post on Calvinism. They (Jeffrey’s questions) are directed at both the Calvinistic view of God’s sovereignty and of man’s free will. I can’t really do justice to either topic (though that won’t stop me from trying)-- and clearly not both in a single blog. So I will address God’s sovereignty today and leave free will for a future, predestined blog.

But first, I must clean up a loose end from my post on predestination.

Am I One of the Elect?

How could I have forgotten to talk about this yesterday? In the unlikely event that you were not a Calvinist but my post persuaded to jump on board and yet left you staring at the ceiling all night wondering if you are of the elect, I apologize.

Many verses (John 3:16 not being the least among them) point to belief as the requirement for eternal life. Those verses may be a large part of what gives you assurance. Now you may wonder: yes, but what if I believe but am not one of the elect? What an awful thought.

It can’t happen. It is exactly the same group of people. All the elect will come to believe, and all who come to a saving faith are of the elect. If you hold that thought in your mind and reread the passages I referenced yesterday you will see the inherent self-consistency.

So if I meet a flaming Arminian with passionately anti-Calvinistic views but with an obvious saving faith I place him into the category of being of the elect without knowing it.

As for assurance, always remember
For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Cor 1:1, NASB)

If the Word does not seem like foolishness to you, that is a really good sign.


God is absolutely sovereign. He is in control of things large and small. Nothing happens apart from His eternal purpose.

That is worth repeating: Nothing happens apart from His eternal purpose If He purposes Osama Bin Laden to convert to Christianity and enter a Presbyterian seminary and start radio ministry, it shall happen, and neither OBL nor all the mullahs in Arabia could thwart His will. The Apostle Paul, once the murderous Christian hater Saul, became the greatest preacher in history.

If it weren’t so, then He is not God. If He wants something to happen, and it doesn’t, then something or someone else is stronger than God.

This does not mean He is spending his time saying “Okay, now I am going to move that electron a few Angstroms to the left “ But it does mean that that particular electron has ended up just were God intended when he set the foundations of the universe.

All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does according to His will in the host of heaven And among the inhabitants of earth; And no one can ward off His hand Or say to Him, 'What have You done?' (Dan. 4:31, NASB)

Three Types of Will

Formal discussions of God’s Sovereignty introduce the concept of three distinct types of God’s will. I think it is important, so here goes:

  1. God's Decretive or Sovereign or Efficacious Will. (This is just one type with three different names.) These are things that God decrees; they most certainly will happen. The verse from Daniel, above, reflects God’s decretive will. So does Romans 8:28-30, which I never get tired of quoting:
    And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. (Rom. 8:28-30, NKJV)

  2. God's Preceptive Will. This involve things that God will not do Himself, but that He desires of man, such as to obey His commandments. Man can and does disobey. This does not thwart His will or violate His sovereignty. He has not decreed that we obey, but He does desire our obedience. And He knows what we will do.

    God’s Preceptive will is used by Calvinists to escape one of the great snares of predestination:
    The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. (2 Pet. 3:9, NKJV)

    Read gingerly this intentional double negative: God does not decree that nobody should perish. (He could, but he doesn’t. Why? I don’t know. And I got that answer from R. C. Sproul.) He does decree that some should not perish (the elect). Apparently, according to this verse, He desires that all should repent. But alas, we don’t.

  3. God's Permissive Will. This relates to the things that God does not decree or even desire, but He permits them to happen. Since He could prevent them, He is still in absolute control. These are not things that happen in spite of God, but because God allowed them to occur. In no way can one conclude that God endorses that which happens as a result of His permissive will.
    and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, a thing which I never commanded or spoke of, nor did it ever enter My mind; (Jer. 19:5, NASB)

    When you pray for something and add “God willing” as in: “I will visit you in Buffalo and bring fresh kumquats, God willing” you are essentially appealing to His permissive will.

The Arminian Sovereignty Problem

In his post, Jeffrey says that he doesn’t see any problem with sovereignty for those of an Arminian persuasion. I postulated the existence of a huge problem and noted that I don’t know the Arminian response, but I allowed that it must be complicated.

If Jeffrey is representative, then there is no complicated solution because there is no perceived problem! That explains why I never came across a big Arminian tome on sovereignty. So the big problem is actually that you stubborn Arminians don’t recognize you have a big problem!

Okay, seriously then. I think I understand more than I did yesterday (no big feat there) and I believe I understand why Arminians do not think they have a problem. The answer must be related to the three types of God’s will.

Calvinists are adamant that salvation is the province of God’s decretive will. We think that if God does not decree that some shall be saved, well then nobody will be saved.

My guess is Arminians put salvation under the auspices of God’s preceptive will. Then I agree that in principle the offer could be accepted or rejected.

If so, I think the Arminian position is wrong. For in fact the offer would always be rejected.

Also so many scriptures (many I referenced yesterday) are of this form:

All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. (John 6:37-39, NKJV

This sounds very decretive to me. It does not say “All that the Father gives to Me might come to Me, providing they, of their own free will, assent to the Gospel call.” It says they will come to me.

I know, I know. We’ll have to agree to disagree.

Calvinism and Science

Jeffrey also talked about science and Calvinism—and I apologize but I didn’t really understand the point he was making—I always have trouble at the physics-metaphysics boundary. All I can do is try to clarify from example. God willed into existence the matter of the universe. He willed into existence the laws of gravity to move it around. He does not maintain the universe like a chessboard, but nevertheless it is doing precisely as he willed. It is perfectly legitimate for science to explore these secondary causes, such as Newton’s God’s law of gravity.

Finally, although God does not move the planets around “manually” like game pieces, He certainly can, at times, if he wants to:

Then Joshua spoke to the LORD in the day when the LORD delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel:

"Sun, stand still over Gibeon;
And Moon, in the Valley of Aijalon."
So the sun stood still,
And the moon stopped,

Till the people had revenge
Upon their enemies.

Is this not written in the Book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day.
(Joshua 10:12-13, NKJV)

That must have been impressive.

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