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God’s Sovereignty

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
June 7, 2022 12:01 am

God’s Sovereignty

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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June 7, 2022 12:01 am

There is nothing in the universe that the Lord does not govern--including the human heart. Today, R.C. Sproul conveys the extent of God's sovereignty.

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How can God, who is sovereign, allow evil in the world? How can God allow people to perish? If God knows in advance, for example, that a certain person is going to be born and is going to live their life and perish everlastingly in hell, how could a good God let that happen? Well, that question for many people is a major sticking point when it comes to God's sovereignty.

If God is good, why is there evil? Fortunately, it's not an impossible question to answer. We're glad you've joined us for the Tuesday edition of Renewing Your Mind. I'm Lee Webb.

Today Dr. R.C. Sproul helps us understand how God can be perfectly and meticulously sovereign while maintaining His mercy and justice. In this session of our study of predestination, I want to focus our attention on the sovereignty of God. One of the reasons why I think it's important that we really begin here with our study of the doctrine is that here is an area in which virtually all Christians agree. We agree that God is sovereign.

How we understand the sovereignty of God may differ from Christian to Christian, but certainly we would all make the confession that God is sovereign. I like to tell one of my favorite stories that took place in the seminary where I teach a couple of years ago. I had announced in my theology class that the following week I would be lecturing on chapter 3 of the Westminster Confession of Faith, which deals with the eternal decrees of God. And the students didn't miss the implications of that. They realized that we would soon be entering into this volatile arena of discussing predestination. And since the evening class in theology was open to the public, they went and invited all their friends, particularly their friends who were not inclined toward the Reformed doctrine of predestination. So I had a tiger by the tail the following Monday night when we started, and I began by reading the first line of chapter 3 of the Westminster Confession of Faith. And I'll read that now for your benefit so that we can recapture the glory of what happened in Mississippi. The third chapter of the Westminster Confession begins with these words, God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will freely and immutably, that is without possibility of changing it, God did freely and immutably ordain whatsoever comes to pass, semicolon.

Let me take a breath there at the point of the semicolon. God from all eternity, according to His own holy and wise counsel, did freely and immutably ordain or foreordain whatsoever comes to pass. And I paused at that point in the seminary classroom, and I said to my students, how many of you believe that statement?

I have to understand this was a Presbyterian seminary, so these fellows were pretty well steeped in the Augustinian tradition, and I got like a 70 percent vote there. That large number believed it. And I said, okay, how many of you don't believe that statement? And 30 or so hands went in the air, and I said, fine. Now let me ask another question. I said, without fear of recriminations, nobody's going to jump all over you.

We just would like to know, feel free to state your position, how many of you would call yourselves atheists? And nobody put their hand up. And I went into my Lieutenant Colombo routine.

There's just one thing here I can't understand. I said, and I looked at those 30 who had raised their hand, and I said, do you mind if I ask you a personal question? I said, I can't figure out why those of you who raised your hand saying you did not believe this statement didn't raise your hand when I asked if you were atheists. And they looked at me with a mixture of puzzlement, the same kind of looks I'm seeing in your eyes here today. And I was saying, because if you don't believe this statement, you understand that fundamentally bottom line, you're an atheist.

And that was about the most outrageous thing they ever heard in their lives. And I said, well, let's understand that this statement that I've just read that God has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass is not a statement that is unique to Calvinism or to Presbyterianism. It doesn't distinguish the Reformed tradition from other traditions. It doesn't even distinguish Christians from Jews or from Muslims. This statement here distinguishes theists from atheists. And they were still puzzled as I continued this harangue, and I said, don't you see that if there's anything that happens in this world outside the foreordination of God, that if there's no sense in which God is ordaining whatsoever comes to pass, then at whatever point something happens outside the foreordination of God, it is therefore happening outside of the sovereignty of God. Understand that when we talk about God's ordaining things, there are different ways that God ordains things to come to pass.

This doesn't necessarily mean that God jumps down into the planet and makes something happen through a direct and immediate personal involvement on His part. But the trick, I guess, in the statement has to do with the word ordain. All that statement means is that God is sovereign over anything that happens. Now, I need to continue what the Westminster Confession of Faith says.

Remember I gave you a semicolon. After that semicolon, the Confession is quick to add that though God ordains whatsoever comes to pass, yet He does it in such a way as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of secondary causes taken away but rather established. So we're not talking about a rigid determinism that eliminates free creatures, but we are affirming a sovereign God who is sovereign even over free creatures. That is the point that the Confession is making.

Now this brings us to the thorny problem that came up at least briefly in one of our discussion periods. If God is totally sovereign and if people are fallen and some perish, how can God who is sovereign allow evil in the world? How can God allow people to perish?

If God knows in advance, for example, that a certain person is going to be born and is going to live their life and perish everlastingly in hell, how could a good God let that happen? The dilemma was set forth philosophically by John Stuart Mill when he said, if God allows this evil situation to exist, it can only mean one of two things. Either God does not have the power to stop it, that is He would like to have a world where there's no suffering, no pain, no evil, and no one is ever lost, but He just can't pull it off. If that's the case, then God is not omnipotent. But if God is omnipotent and evil still exists and people still perish, then God is not loving. Now that argument in one form or another has been set forth as a criticism of Christianity again and again and again since John Stuart Mill formulated it the way he did.

And as Christians, how would we respond to that? Don't we struggle over that very question and over that very problem? I think philosophically we can demonstrate that John Stuart Mill's dilemma here is what we would call a false dilemma. It commits the fallacy of the false dilemma because he doesn't consider every option that is involved here, and there's some great big assumptions going on here in this argument that aren't brought to the surface, but we'll try to do that in a few moments. But to set the problem even more graphically for you, let's consider for a moment the relationship of a sovereign God to a world that is fallen, because two things that all Christians agree on, one, that God is sovereign, and two, that the world is fallen.

Don't we all agree on that? Certainly there's no dispute on that point between Calvinists and Arminians, Augustinians and semi-Pelagians. We all agree that God is sovereign, and we all agree that men are fallen. It's the question of the relationship between a sovereign God to a fallen world that now grasps our concern and our attention. There are basically four ways in which God can relate as a sovereign God to a fallen world.

Number one, God could decide to give no one who is fallen an opportunity for salvation. Now that would really enrage John Stuart Mill because this would indicate that God is not loving at all. Of course, the thing that John Stuart Mill isn't really thinking about is that this God whom he believes to be loving and must be loving is also a just God, and he's a righteous God, and his love is always an expression of his righteousness. His love is a just and a holy love, and a just and holy God is never required to love a rebellious creation to the extent of extending mercy to it. He could love fallen man and punish fallen man whom he loves as an expression of his justice.

More on that later. Let's keep our eye now on the four things that God could do. He could decide that I will provide no opportunity for anybody to be saved.

Now before we go any further, let me ask you this question. If God decided not to save anybody, would there be anything wrong with that? If God decided to punish the entire human race for the human race's rejection of God and rebellion to God, the only objection we could give at that point is that God is just, and that's hardly an objection. I mean, can you imagine the attorney standing up into the courtroom and saying, Objection, Your Honor, I don't like that decision because it's just.

How far would that go? I mean, God would be perfectly justified to exercise justice against an unjust creation. But you see, lurking behind all of this is somehow the assumption that God, if he's really going to be a good God, must be merciful.

And as I've often said to my students, that's one of the greatest pitfalls in Christian thinking. As soon as your mind tells you that God must be merciful or that God ought to be kind, as soon as you think for a second that God is obligated to be merciful, a bell ought to go off in your head and alert you to the fact that you're not thinking about mercy anymore. Because by definition the big difference between mercy and justice is that mercy is never, never, never obligatory. Mercy by definition is something God doesn't have to do.

It's something that God does voluntarily, freely. But as soon as you think He owes us mercy, you're not thinking about mercy anymore. Justice can be owed, but mercy is never obligatory.

Do we get that? We have to understand that principle. Okay, second thing is He could provide an opportunity for everyone to be saved. Actually, there are six things that we could do here, and I'm trying to shortcut this for the sake of time, and I'll just put in parentheses here, or He could create an opportunity for some people to be saved. But bottom line, God could give the world an opportunity for salvation and set it up in such a way that everybody or some of the people at least had a chance to be saved, but there's no guarantee that anybody would ever be saved.

Okay? That's what we mean by opportunity. God is an equal opportunity redeemer in this schema. The third option is that God, exercising His power and His sovereignty, could intrude into the human situation, not only providing an opportunity for salvation, but by so working in the hearts of fallen people, ensure the salvation of some, or let's put it this way, ensure the salvation of everybody. That is, God can intervene for everybody, ensuring their salvation. That is, in His sovereignty, He could so guide the steps of a person and so influence inwardly their hearts as to actually bring them to faith. Now, again, does God have the power to do that?

Yes. Now, He could do that for some, or He could do that for everybody. Now, these are different options that God had or has.

What we're trying to get at in this course is what, in fact, has He done? Now, does the Bible indicate that God has provided no opportunity for anybody to be saved? Now, we can eliminate that one as Christians, can't we?

Right off the bat. There's no argument there. We all agree that this is not the biblical view, that God has made no provision whatsoever for salvation. Now, how about the idea that God intervenes in everybody's life and ensures the salvation of everyone?

What do we call that view? Universalism. And there are Christians who believe in universalism. But the debate historically between semi-Pelagianism and Augustinianism is not a debate over universalism. Those two viewpoints both agree what? That only some people ultimately are saved.

They are particularists rather than universalists. The Bible seems to teach, I think clearly, that there are those who are lost, ultimately lost, and at the last judgment will be lost as our Lord indicates. Some will be sent out into outer darkness forever, weeping and gnashing of teeth. So we believe that there are some people who will never be redeemed. So this one has to be eliminated.

So what we're left with are these alternatives. Either God gives an opportunity for all or only some, or God does more than simply make an opportunity available. He actually comes in and intervenes and ensures that some people are saved. This is the position of Augustinianism, that God ensures the salvation of the elect or of those who are predestined to be saved. The non-Augustinian views fall under this category, one or the other, either that God makes it possible for everybody or some to be saved.

Everybody has the opportunity or some have the opportunity. Before we debate about which one is actually the case, let me ask this question. Could God ensure the salvation of everyone if He so decide?

Does He have the sovereign power to do it? Now keep in mind that one of the most frequent objections to the Augustinian view of predestination is that God intervenes in the life of certain people and ensures their salvation, but He doesn't do it for everybody. And the objection from the non-Augustinian view is, hey God, that's not fair. If you're going to do it for some, then you ought to do it what?

For everybody. But do you see that the person over here has the same problem? If this person believes that God has the power to bring everybody to salvation and he doesn't, really that argument falls on the head here because all God does in that case is give the opportunity to fallen men to be saved. In this one God does more than give the opportunity. He assures that some people will be saved. In this schema there's no assurance that anybody will be saved. In fact, as I think we will see later, it assures us if we take seriously the biblical view of fallen man and his attitude towards God and towards God's grace would assure, to my mind at least, that nobody would be saved.

In other words, what I'm getting at is that one of the chief objections of the Reformed or Augustinian position is that it's not gracious enough, when in fact it's so much more gracious because God doesn't just say, okay, here's the cross, choose it if you will and leaves people to themselves, but God applies the work of Christ. The Holy Spirit works in people who are dead in sin and trespasses in order to bring them to faith and to ensure that the death of Christ is never in vain, that Christ will see the travail of his soul and be satisfied. The Scriptures speak of God the Father giving people to God the Son.

So what we have here is that the one scheme, what it has going for us is that at least theoretically the opportunity is given to everybody. Anybody who believes in the gospel can be saved. However, there are millions and millions and millions of people who never hear the gospel, who in fact don't have the opportunity. The only thing we can really talk about here is that some have the opportunity, some who are not predestined have the opportunity to be saved. That is, this argument would be everyone who hears the gospel at least has an opportunity to be saved, but God has not made sure that everybody in the world hears the gospel. Could God make sure that everybody in the world hears the gospel?

Could God print it in the clouds if He wanted to? Yes, but He doesn't. And so we are left with that problem that God does not do everything that God conceivably could do within the bounds of His own righteousness.

He does not do everything conceivable to ensure the salvation of the world. Now why not? I don't know. I have no idea.

Why not? I know that He doesn't. That much is clear, and I know that there's no shadow of turning in Him. I know that God is under no obligation to save anybody, and I know that God does save somebody. And God reminds His people of one crucial principle of divine sovereignty, and we will look at that more closely later on in this course where God reminds Moses and then later the church through Paul of His divine prerogative, I will have mercy upon whom I will have mercy. God never owes mercy. Real quickly, if God only saves some people, we have to understand that we have two groups of people in the world – the saved and the unsaved – but they are all part of a group of sinners. All are fallen. All are in rebellion against God.

What God does, according to the Augustinian view, is that He sovereignly elects and chooses and redeems some and the rest He passes over. So that what you have in this schema is that one group gets mercy. What does this group get? Justice. Who gets injustice?

Nobody gets injustice. Now mercy is not justice. Mercy is non-justice, and injustice is non-justice. But injustice and mercy are not the same thing.

They're both outside of the category of justice. Here's justice, and over here we have non-justice, and non-justice is of two types – mercy and injustice. One form of non-justice is mercy. Is there anything sinful or wicked about mercy?

No, mercy is perfectly good. Is there anything sinful or wicked about injustice? Yes, injustice is a violation of justice. Injustice is sin. Injustice is evil. Now if God gave mercy to this group and injustice to this group, then God would have His integrity compromised. But God gives justice to one group, mercy to another group.

Nobody has ever been a victim of injustice at the hands of God. That exploitation from Dr. Sproul is one I need to memorize and have ready as I interact with family members and friends who have questions about this important doctrine. To understand the distinction between injustice and mercy helps us explain the gospel much more clearly. We're glad you've joined us today for Renewing Your Mind as we continue Dr. R.C. 's Sproul series, Chosen by God. In six messages, R.C. carefully examines God's sovereignty in salvation and demonstrates how it relates to our will.

When you contact us today with a donation of any amount, we'll add the six video lessons to your online learning library, and we'll send you the two-DVD set by mail. Just request Chosen by God when you find us online at or when you call us at 800-435-4343. The Bible is one book written by one divine author, but people don't always read it that way. Sometimes we get lost in all the names, places, and events in God's Word, unsure of where we're going and what we're meant to take away. And when it comes to doctrines like predestination, it's easy to get confused. Your donations make teaching series like the one we're airing this week possible, so we're grateful for your financial support. Well, if you've always engaged in a tug of war with God's sovereignty and free will, you may have misunderstood what free will is. Tomorrow Dr. Sproul explains that God's sovereignty and man's responsibility are not at odds. Please join us Wednesday for Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-04-08 13:01:19 / 2023-04-08 13:10:00 / 9

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