Are you a Christian?
DIVINE SOVEREIGNTY - A, PREVIOUS LECTURE - NEXT SECTION - HELP - FACEBOOK
In this discussion I shall endeavor to show:
What is not intended by the term "sovereignty" when applied to God,
It is not intended, at least by me, that God, in any instance, wills or acts arbitrarily, or without good reasons; reasons so good and so weighty, that He could in no case act otherwise than He does, without violating the law of His own intelligence and conscience, and consequently without sin. Any view of divine sovereignty that implies arbitrariness on the part of the divine will, is not only contrary to scripture, but is revolting to reason, and blasphemous. God cannot act arbitrarily, in the sense of unreasonably, without infinite wickedness. For Him to be arbitrary, in the sense of unreasonable, would be wickedness as much greater than any creature is capable of committing, as His reason or knowledge is greater than theirs. This must be self-evident. God should therefore never be represented as a sovereign, in the sense that implies that He is actuated by self or arbitrary will, rather than by His infinite intelligence.
Many seem to me to represent the sovereignty of God as consisting in a perfectly arbitrary disposal of events. They seem to conceive of God as being wholly above and without any law or rule of action guiding His will by His infinite reason and conscience. They appear shocked at the idea of God Himself being the subject of moral law, and are ready to inquire, Who gives law to God? They seem never to have considered that God is, and must be, a law unto Himself; that He is necessarily omniscient, and that the divine reason must impose law on, or prescribe law to, the divine will. They seem to regard God as living wholly above law, and as disposed to have His own will at any rate, reasonable or unreasonable; to set up His own arbitrary pleasure as His only rule of action, and to impose this rule upon all His subjects. This sovereignty they seem to conceive of as controlling and disposing of all events, with an iron or adamantine fatality, inflexible, irresistible, omnipotent. "Who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will" (Eph. 1:11). This text they dwell much upon, as teaching that God disposes all events absolutely, not according to His own infinite wisdom and discretion, but simply according to His own will; and, as their language would often seem to imply, without reference at all to the universal law of benevolence. I will not say, that such is the view as it lies in their own mind; but only that from the language they use, such would seem to be their idea of divine sovereignty. Such, however, is not the view of this subject which I shall state and defend on the present occasion.
What is intended by divine sovereignty.
The sovereignty of God consists in the independence of His will, in consulting His own intelligence and discretion, in the selection of His end, and the means of accomplishing it. In other words, the sovereignty of God is nothing else than infinite benevolence directed by infinite knowledge. God consults no one in respect to what shall be done by Him. He asks no leave to do and require what His own wisdom dictates. He consults only Himself; that is, His own infinite intelligence. So far is He from being arbitrary in His sovereignty, in the sense of unreasonable, that He is invariably guided by infinite reason. He consults His own intelligence only, not from any arbitrary disposition, but because His knowledge is perfect and infinite and therefore it is safe and wise to take counsel nowhere else. It were infinitely unreasonable, and weak, and wicked in God to ask leave of any being to act in conformity with His own judgment. He must make His own reason His rule of action. God is a sovereign, not in the sense that He is not under law, or that He is above all law, but in the sense that He is a law to Himself; that He knows no law but what is given Him by His own reason. In other words still, the sovereignty of God consists in such a disposal of all things and events, as to meet the ideas of His own reason, or the demands of His own intelligence. "He works all things after the counsel of His own will" (Eph. 1:11), in the sense that He formed and executes His own designs independently; in the sense that He consults His own infinite discretion; that is, He acts according to His own views of propriety and fitness. This He does, be it distinctly understood, without at all setting aside the freedom of moral agents. His infinite knowledge enabled Him to select an end and means, that should consist with and include the perfect freedom of moral agents. The subjects of His moral government are free to obey or disobey, and take the consequences. But foreseeing precisely in all cases how they would act, He has lad His plan accordingly, so as to bring out the contemplated and desired results. In all His plans He consulted none but Himself. But this leads me to say:
That God is and ought to be an absolute and a universal sovereign.
By absolute, I mean, that His expressed will, in obedience to His reason, is law. It is not law because it proceeds from His arbitrary will, but because it is the revelation or declaration of the affirmations and demands of His infinite reason. His expressed will is law, because it is an infallible declaration of what is intrinsically fit, suitable, right. His will does not make the things that He commands, right, fit, proper, obligatory, in the sense, that should He require it, the opposite of what He now requires would be fit, proper, suitable, obligatory; but in the sense that we need no other evidence of what is in itself intrinsically proper, fit, obligatory, than the expression of His will. Our reason affirms, that what He wills must be right; not because He wills it, but that He wills it because it is right, or obligatory in the nature of things; that is, our reason affirms that He wills as He does, only upon condition, that His infinite intelligence affirms that such willing is intrinsically right, and therefore He ought to will or command just what He does.
He is a sovereign in the sense that His will is law, whether we are able to see the reason for His commands or not, because our reason affirms that He has and must have good and sufficient reasons for every command; so good and sufficient, that He could not do otherwise than require what He does, under the circumstances, without violating the law of His own intelligence. We therefore need no other reason for affirming our obligation to will and to do, than that God requires it; because we always and necessarily assume, that what God requires must be right, not because He arbitrarily wills it, but because He does not arbitrarily will it: on the contrary that He has, and must have in every instance, infinitely good and wise reasons for every requirement.