Perhaps I should have written this article 12 months ago, before we began preaching through John’s Gospel on Sunday mornings. I say this because we are now mid-way through the sixth chapter, and from here on, this book which most Christians feel they know so well says things that many professing believers refuse to accept. Nothing loftier than the Gospel of John has ever been written, and no part of the Bible sets the wonder of God before us in more personal terms. And nowhere else is the absolute sovereignty of God more clearly taught.
Exactly 800 years ago, the Magna Carta was signed in England. The purpose of this document was to limit the power of the infamous King John, so that although English kings would still have power, they would not now be able to go beyond certain limits without the consent of those they ruled. In other words, kings and queens would still be sovereign, but not absolutely so. Unfortunately, over the last century and a half, the majority of professing Christians have imagined that they can impose the same limitations upon God.
Consider that the commonest noun in our English Bible is the word “Lord”, meaning someone who has authority and power over others. This title for God occurs, I am told, some 7,365 times. Quite naturally then, the commonest way for us to speak of God is as The Lord, and rightly so (Jn.13:13). However, let us beware that we do not regard “The Lord” in the same way we regard our present queen, saying that she reigns while assuming that certain things are none of her business. The Lordship of our God is not ceremonial. He is not consulted, as David Cameron consults the Queen, merely as a matter of courtesy, while the decision-making power actually resides elsewhere. No, He is Lord over every atom of His creation, and creation does nothing that is not according to His will and purpose – Ps.115:3; Ps.135:6; Is.46:9-10; Ez.12:25; Dan.4:35; Acts 4:27-28; Eph.1:11, &c.
Now, just as no one in 1215 denied the general sovereignty of King John, so no one in popular religion denies the sovereignty of God. Obviously there is no point in worshipping a powerless god, for we need Him to be sovereign over our enemies and our difficulties. However, it has been decided that there are two areas in particular where His involvement is unacceptable to us. The first concerns anything that harms us.
We are quite ready to believe that God drowned the Egyptians in the Red sea, or even that He brought about the destruction of the Nazis in 1945. But the opinion that 9/11 was God’s judgment on America will not be tolerated. We do not have enough faith in Romans 8:28 to believe that God has any involvement in the heartbreaking and sometimes brutal things that befall Christians. These, we insist, are the result of the free will choices of wicked men, but there is no room in our thinking for God’s positive involvement in these events. Moreover, to describe earthquakes and tsunamis as “Acts of God” as we once did, is no longer seen as good theology. But we are wrong – Gen.50:20; Job 1:20-22; Job 2:10; I Pet.4:12-14 &c.
The second, and even more contentious area concerns God’s control over our eternal destiny. A man or woman, no matter how far gone in sin, always retains (so the doctrine goes) enough goodness or light or grace – call it what you will, to make an independent choice concerning Christ. Their idea, as C H Spurgeon put it, is that God provides the machinery of salvation, but the sinner (whom the Bible describes as lost – II Cor.4:3, blind – II Cor.4:4, enslaved to sin – Jn.8:34, uncomprehending – I Cor.2:14, a hater of God – Rom.1:30 & 8:7, and spiritually dead – Eph.2:1-9) must nevertheless work the levers, and so be the deciding cause of his own salvation. So intolerable is the thought that the sinner’s destiny rests in the hands of a sovereign Saviour that any perverse interpretation of God’s Word is acceptable in an attempt to silence what He has plainly said. This is what happens when one’s doctrine arises not from scripture, but from human philosophies and traditions – the end result is unbelief.
Now, the word Unbelief may sound harsh when we consider that there are many people who hold such views who, as far as we can tell have a genuine love for Christ, who live lives of true godliness, and who will probably have more crowns to cast at Jesus’ feet than I can hope for. Yet, going back to our analogy of the Magna Carta, let us consider what such a position says about the character of God.
King John was a thoroughly evil man who assassinated an unknown number of people (including his own nephew) by locking them away and starving them to death. Historians agree that he was easily the most wicked man ever to occupy the throne of England, and so whatever may be the rights and wrongs of opposing one’s earthly king, we can certainly sympathise with those who wanted to limit John’s authority. He was a maniac who could not be trusted.
But what if John had been a man who was altogether wise and righteous – a king whose integrity and love for his subjects could never be questioned? Would the Magna Carta not then have been an unjust attack on his character, insinuating that he was not to be trusted in spite of all the evidence to the contrary? How much greater then is the insult to God when we say concerning any matter that, “You shall not exercise authority in this!” Is our all-wise, holy and righteous Creator and King not to be trusted in certain areas? Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? – Gen.18:25. To impugn the character of God in this way is unbelief.
This unbelief shows itself when we do not possess enough information to convince us that His sovereign acts are just and fair. He does not tell us why He brought a particular earthquake to pass, or why someone dear to me died so young. And He does not tell us why He loved Jacob and hated Esau – Rom.9:13, or why He saved me and not my kind-hearted cousin. What he does tell us is that His works are perfect and that all His ways are just; that he is a God of truth who is without iniquity; that He is just and upright. (Deut.32:4) This is what He requires us to believe when His ways seem mysterious to us, for as Voddie Baucham said, “God isn’t running for God.” – He will continue to do according to His eternal purpose – Is.14:27. Our responsibility is to receive His Word with humility, and respond to Him with faith and obedience.
Let us therefore stand in awe at the revelation of God that is John’s Gospel and rejoice in His holy sovereign rule concerning those things that flow from His secret counsels – Deut.29:29