The Sovereignty of God Regarding Individuals
Stephen Arbuthnot, Glasgow, Scotland
By the sovereignty of God we mean His purposeful, active control of absolutely everything, as Paul speaks of ‘him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will’, Eph. 1. 11. This includes His command and control of the billions of galaxies with their billions of stars, but also the daily movements of every one of His children. God is in control of the affairs of nations over millennia, but also the details of the brief lives of all believers.
Early examples of this in the lives of His saints are Jacob and Joseph. Jacob was a liar of the first order; yet, since he was the chosen one, all the events of his life worked out to the glory of God according to His purpose for him so that it can be finally said, ’By faith Jacob, when he was a dying . . . worshipped’, Heb. 11. 21. Joseph so beautifully understands and explains to his brothers that though they were responsible for evil intent towards him, God was actually controlling it all for a good purpose, Gen. 50. 20. Incidentally, as is always the case, the sovereignty of God does not reduce in any way the responsibility of men for all they do.
One of the greatest statements of the truth of God’s control of the lives of His people, and indeed of all, is given by the godly Hannah, 1 Sam. 2. 1-10. She knew that the Lord had over-ruled in the matter of her barrenness and the birth of Samuel, ’so that the barren hath born seven; and she that hath many children is waxed feeble’. But she went much further, ’The Lord killeth, and maketh alive’ – thus she declared that the time and method of death is of the Lord, as well as the moment and power of resurrection. ’The Lord maketh poor, and maketh rich: he bringeth low, and lifteth up’ – thus announcing that God is sovereign over our lives economically and socially. He is in charge of arranging opportunities and dispensing abilities. ’He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory’ – and, yes, supremely He is the God of electing grace and has chosen His saints ‘to salvation’, 2 Thess. 2. 13. Daily preservation is also His doing, for, says Hannah, ‘He will keep the feet of his saints’. And the psalmist knew just how intimate was God’s interest in his daily life for, ’Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off’, Ps. 139. 2.
God’s control of the big things amazes us, but so also must that of the small. Think of the man who ‘drew his bow at a venture’, 1 Kgs. 22. 34, and all that had to be perfectly arranged to ‘coincide’ so that the arrow found its mark to take out a wicked king whose time on earth had run out! God controlled the angle of the man’s arm upwards, the direction he pointed it in, the distance he pulled it back by, not to mention the exact position of the king himself, so that the arrow just got through the gap in the armour to fatally wound. Awesome!
Doubtless one of the greatest areas of concern for believers in this life is the issue of their suffering. But this is one area which the scripture testifies is down to God’s command and control. The classic example is surely that of Job, who never mentions the Sabeans or Chaldeans, or fire, or wind, or even Satan, but ascribes his difficulties entirely to God, ’Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?’ Job 2. 10; ‘The arrows of the Almighty are within me . . . the terrors of God do set themselves in array against me’, Job 6. 4; ’Have pity upon me, have pity upon me, O ye my friends; for the hand of God hath touched me’, Job 19. 21. The Lord will affirm at the end of the book that which Job had said about Him was true. Supremely, this was recognized by the Lord, ‘Thou hast brought me into the dust of death’, Ps. 22. 15. Our God is the God of the good days and also of the bad, the God of the valleys as well as the mountains.
God’s sovereignty is, of course, paramount in the service of His people. The oft-quoted verse, ‘I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase’, 1 Cor. 3. 6, embraces the work of the gospel and the growth in grace in the life of those saved, and God is essential for both. In both the choice and movement of His servants, He is in control. So we pray to the Lord of the harvest to send labourers, and a labourer like Phillip is taken from a fruitful area of service to see one soul saved elsewhere.
In the local assembly, all the needs are met by those to whom God grants the appropriate enablements, and, thus, even in a place like Corinth, they came ‘behind in no gift’, 1 Cor. 1. 7. Our responsibility is to stir up the God-given gift, 2 Tim. 1. 6, and to make sure there’s room for all the God-given gift to be exercised. God has put each of us in the local assembly to perform the function of His choosing, 1 Cor. 12. 18.
That God’s sovereignty reaches to the details of the individual’s life in the world is stated very clearly by Paul when he writes, ‘Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him’, 1 Cor. 7. 17 ESV. This remarkable verse shows that our position in life, socially and economically, is determined by God. Where we were born, when we were born, the ‘life chances’ that would be ours, all come from God. We are to act responsibly and in God’s fear within the framework which He ordains for us. We never chose to be sinners; neither did we choose our parents, our country or decade of birth! The key aspects of both our nature and that which nurtures us is not of ourselves but of God’s sovereign disposing.
The acceptance of this truth should lead the believer into a life of happy submission to God’s will. For the child of God there can be no accidents but only incidents which He controls. There should be no grumbling, for if we complain of our lot it is really against our Lord that we do. No envy or jealousy should be in our hearts, for if others have more or better than us it is God who has given it them and kept it from us. No bitterness should rancour in our spirit, for all we are and have is of His wisdom and love. No turn of affairs should be a disappointment to us for everything is of His appointment for us. If there be that which truly hurts us, like Paul’s ‘thorn in the flesh’, 2 Cor. 12. 7, let us seek the grace which God says is ‘sufficient’ for us in those circumstances.
One of the wonderful things about God is that He takes full responsibility for everything He does, whether big or small. About people who are physically disadvantaged, He says to Moses, ‘Who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the Lord?’ Exod. 4. 11. He is the great God who ‘maketh the storm a calm’, Ps. 107. 29, but who has, in the first place, whipped up the storm, v. 25! When we do suffer grief, let us remember that ‘though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies’, Lam. 3. 32.
So, let us rejoice in the life that the Lord in His sovereignty has given us to live out. Do not seek that which belongs to someone else. Let us bow to the role that God has given us on this earth and relish it and magnify Him through manifesting in it the beauties of the Saviour, ’For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure’, Phil. 2. 13.