by Jeffrey W. Hamilton
Text: I Timothy 6:13-21
I. When looking at the history of the development of the denominational world, one issue that has significant impact revolves around understanding God’s sovereignty.
A. Sovereignty is being above or superior to others; to be chief, greatest, or supreme.
B. The question is: Can God be sovereign if His creation can choose to rebel against Him?
II. God is Sovereign
A. He is the only Sovereign - I Timothy 6:15
B. He rules over all - Psalms 47:2
C. But are these saying that God has the right to exert His will over His creation or that God controls all aspects of His creation?
D. Consider a king, who in his realm is sovereign. As such, no one holds a greater rank or has greater authority and power than he. He issues a decree that all who come before him and pledge their allegiance to him would receive his protection and his blessing. In his kingdom many appeared and pledged their allegiance, but there were some who were rebellious and refused to bow before their king. When enemies latter tried to invade the kingdom, the king gave priority to the lands and people who had sworn allegiance to him and as a result, those who did not suffered a greater loss.
1. Throughout this story, did the king give up his sovereignty at any time?
2. Was he become less sovereign because some refused to swear loyalty to him?
3. Did he lose control over what he governed?
a. You might say that those who refused to submit to his authority were not under him
b. But the king still determined their fate based on their choices.
E. Is it not God doing the same?
1. God gives consequences based on man’s choices - Ezekiel 18:26-27
2. Salvation is given based on man’s acts - I Corinthians 15:1-2
3. God’s grace was given to all, but whether you accept it determines your destiny - I John 2:1-2
4. Man is given a choice, but God remains in control - Joshua 24:15
III. The early church understood this view of sovereignty
A. “They were convinced that they should call the Maker of this universe the Father, for He exercises a providence over all things and arranges the affairs of our world” [Irenaeus, Against Heresy, I.25.1, c. 180].
B. Augustine held this understanding early in his life.
1. “... that free will, naturally assigned by the Creator to our rational soul, is such a neutral power, as can either incline towards faith, or turn towards unbelief ... God no doubt wishes all men to be saved and come into the knowledge of the truth; but yet not so as to take away from them free will, for the good or the evil use of which they may be most righteously judged” [Augustine, “Of the Spirit and the Letter”, ch. 33, A.D. 412].
C. But Augustine began debating a man named Pelagius.
1. Pelagius denied Augustine’s belief that people are born sinful because of Adam’s sin.
a. “If we sin, it is because we choose willfully and knowingly sin, and it is always a matter of free will if we are held accountable for it” [Olson, The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition and Reform, p. 269].
b. Pelagius believed that if humans did not possess the inherent ability to obey the commands of God, then it would be unjust for God to demand obedience and hold people accountable for not obeying. Thus, he concluded that humans unconditionally possess free will as well as moral responsibility [Peterson and Williams, Why I am Not an Arminian, p. 32].
2. In debating Pelagius and his followers, Augustine changed his views on God’s sovereignty.
a. Cyprian [A.D. 200-258] had written that we must boast in nothing, since nothing is our own.
b. “And it was chiefly by this testimony that I myself also was convinced when I was in a similar error, thinking that faith whereby we believe on God is not God’s gift, but that it is in us from ourselves, and that by it we obtain the gifts of God, whereby we may live temperately and righteously and piously in this world” [Augustine, On the Predestination of the Saints, A.D. 426].
3. Augustine began claiming that an omnipotent God is one who cannot be hindered by the will of another
a. “For He is not truly called Almighty if He cannot do whatsoever He pleases, or if the power of His almighty will is hindered by the will of any creature whatsoever” [Augustine, Enchiridion of Faith, Hope, and Love, ch. 96].
b. This brought a conflict with I Timothy 2:4 which says that God desires all men to be saved. How could men thwart the desire of God?
c. His solution was to claim that “all men” doesn’t mean everyone. He claimed it meant all of a type of people.
(1) “We are to understand by all men, the human race in all its varieties of rank and circumstances ... For which of all these classes is there out of which God does not will that men should be saved in all nations through His only-begotten Son, our Lord, and therefore does save them; for the Omnipotent cannot will in vain, whatsoever He may will?”
(2) Thus Augustine concluded that God only desires to save some people and those He chooses cannot resist His will.
D. Notice what happened in first several hundred years of the church:
1. Infants were baptized in order to “lock them” in as members of the church
2. That led to people trying to justify the practice and the idea of original sin came
3. But that led to a conflict with the idea of free-will, so the idea of God being so absolutely sovereign that nothing can happen without His will
IV. We now jump ahead in time nearly a thousand years to the Reformation Movement. There were numerous breaks from the Roman Catholic Church.
A. Leading reformers: Martin Luther, Zwingli and John Calvin were heavily influenced by Augustine’s writings.
B. All three picked up Augustine’s concepts of original sin and salvation being through God’s grace alone.
1. What is more fascinating is how three (four, if you include Roman Catholicism) very different systems of belief each found its foundations in Augustine’s writings
2. For instance, Luther said, “In the beginning, I devoured Augustine, but when...I knew what justification by faith really was, then it was out with him” [edited by Jeffrey P. Greenman and Timothy Larsen, Reading Romans Through the Centuries: From the Early Church to Karl Barth, p. 116].
C. John Calvin was probably the most heavily influenced by Augustine’s views. What Calvin did was make Augustine views more consistent.
1. Calvin defined original sin as “a hereditary depravity and corruption of our nature, diffused into all parts of the soul, which first makes us liable to God’s wrath, then also brings forth in us those works which Scripture calls works of the flesh” [John Calvin, Institutes, II.1.8, p. 251].
2. Calvin defined predestination as: “We call predestination God’s eternal decree, by which he determined with himself what he willed to become of each person. For all are not created in equal condition; rather, eternal life is foreordained for some, eternal damnation for others. Therefore, as any person has been created to one or the other of these ends, we speak of her or him as predestined to life or death” [John Calvin, Institutes, III.21.5, p. 926].
3. Further, Calvin declared: “It is certain that people have no free will to do good without the help of the grace of God” [John Calvin, Institutes, II.6].
D. “Luther wrote that human pursuits after salvation and righteousness are unable to cause election, and therefore people receive no merit. The human will has no ability to thwart God’s sovereign purposes. For the elect, proclaims Luther, predestination is ‘the sweetest of all doctrines,’ however to the carnal it is ‘the bitterest and hardest of all. Consequently, ‘God proves through all these things, not our will, but his inflexible and sure will of predestination.” [The Global Church Project, “Augustine’s Influence on Calvin, Luther, and Zwingli].
E. “Zwingli’s theology includes the total corruption of human beings, and their inability to contribute to their own salvation. ... following Augustine he asserts that everything depends eventually on God’s election of us before the creation of the world. Therefore human beings have no free will apart from God.”[The Global Church Project, “Augustine’s Influence on Calvin, Luther, and Zwingli].
F. Since many denominations have their roots in the Reformation, the influence of these teachings are widespread: Reform Churches, Presbyterians, Baptists, etc.
V. The situation today with Calvinists
A. Since Sovereignty has been redefined as “total control,”
1. “Only two alternatives are possible: God must either rule, or be ruled; sway, or be swayed; accomplish His own Will, or be thwarted by His creatures.” [Arthur Pink, The Sovereignty of God, p. 14].
2. There is no truly free will in Calvinism
B. That means God is responsible for sin
1. God “has foreordained everything ... – even sin” [Edwin H. Palmer, The Five Points of Calvinism, p. 25]
2. “God in some sense desired that man would fall into sin ... He created sin.” [R.C. Sproul, Jr., Almighty Over All, p. 53].
C. It also means that no one can choose to believe, God has to put faith in you.
1. “Faith is the gift of God; not in that it is offered to the will of man by God, but that the thing itself is conferred on him, inspired, infused into him. Not even that God only confers the power of believing, but from thence expects the consent, or the act of believing; but that He, who worketh both to will and to do, worketh in man both to will to believe and to believe itself, ... and thus He worketh all things in all.” [The Articles of the Canons of Dort, A.D. 1619, Article XIV, p. 301].
D. Clearly this contradicts the Scriptures
1. God is not the source of sin
a. I John 1:5 - There is no sin in God
b. James 1:13 - God does not cause sin
c. James 1:14 - Sin comes from the individual
2. People have the ability to choose to follow God or not - Joshua 24:15
3. People are commanded to believe - Acts 16:30-31
4. People are commanded to repent - Acts 17:30
5. People are commanded to be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins - Acts 2:38
E. You have a mind given to you by God, you have a choice left to you by God, what eventually happens to you depends on your deeds as declared by God - Romans 2:3-11