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Monday, December 05, 2005 

The Sovereignty of God in Salvation- Jonathan Edwards

The Following are excerpts from Jonathan Edwards sermon, The Sovereignty of God in Salvation. The full exposition can be found at : http://www.biblebb.com/files/edwards/JE-sovereign.htm

From what the apostle says in the text, he seems to have a special regard for the last two cited passages: to what God said to Moses in the fifteenth verse, and to what He said to Pharaoh in the seventeenth verse. God said to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy.” The apostle refers to this in the first part of our text. And we also know that it often said about Pharaoh, that “God hardened his heart.” And Paul seems to have focused on this fact in the latter part of the text; “and He hardens whom He wants to harden.” Now, from all of this we can observe two basic facts:

1. God's deals differently with men-He has mercy on some, and He hardens others.When God is spoken of as hardening the hearts of some men, it is not to be understood that God was, in any way, the agent or direct cause of the hardening any man's heart. There is no positive act by God in the hardening process. To suppose any such thing would be to make God the immediate author of sin.

God is said to harden men in two ways:

A. First, by withholding the powerful influences of His Spirit, without which their hearts will remain hardened, and grow harder and harder-in this sense God hardens them, as He leaves them in their hardness.

B. Secondly, God hardens men, by providentially ordering things which, by the continued sin of man, becomes the reason for their hardening. Thus God sends His word and commands to men and women which, they then ignore, thereby, confirming their hardening. So the apostle Paul said, that the gospel message he preached was to some people “the smell of death."
So God is represented as sending Isaiah to the people, to “Make the heart of the people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” [Isaiah 6:10] Isaiah's preaching was, in itself, a message imploring these people to turn from their ways and follow God and His word. But their rejection of God’s message caused it to be it an opportunity to further harden their hearts.


God is said to harden men, that He put a lying spirit in the mouth of the false prophets. (2 Chronicles. 18:22). That is, He “allowed” a lying spirit to enter into them. And thus He is said to have told Shimei, a man from the same clan as Saul, to curse David. (2 Samuel 16:10). God did not directly command him to curse David; for it would be contrary to God's commands, for God has expressly said in His Word, “Do not . . . curse the ruler of your people.” [Exodus 22:28] But God “allowed” the evil to work in the heart of Shimei, and then sovereignly brought about the opportunity of stirring it up, as a manifestation of his displeasure against David.

2. The second fact that can be seen in our text is the basic truth that when God deals with mankind, He does so according to His sovereign will and pleasure: “God has mercy on whom He wants to have mercy, and He hardens whom He wants to harden.”

This implies that God never shows mercy or denies it against His will, and that He is always willing to do it when He does it. A willing subject or servant, when he obeys his lord's commands, may never do any thing against his will, and yet it cannot be said that the servant does what he wills in the sense of the text, that is, according to his own will and pleasure. But in the case of God, it is His mere will and sovereign pleasure, which supremely orders the affairs of mankind. It is the divine will without any restraint, or constraint, or obligation.
The basic doctrine of our text is, that God exercises His sovereignty in the eternal salvation of men.
He is not only sovereign, but He has a sovereign right to do what He wants in the salvation of men. Nobody can charge Him with going beyond His right; He exercises the right which He has. This morning I propose to show four things,


I. What is God's sovereignty.
II. What God's sovereignty in the salvation of men implies?III. That God actually does, in fact, exercise His sovereignty in the salvation of men. IV. The reasons for this exercise of sovereignty.

I. What is God's sovereignty?
The sovereignty of God is His absolute, independent right of disposing of all creatures according to His own pleasure. Now let us focus on this concept of God’s “pleasure”
The will of God is called His good pleasure,


1. The will of God is called His good pleasure, in opposition to any constraint.
Men may do things voluntarily, and yet there may be a degree of constraint. A man may be said to do something voluntarily, that is, he does it by himself; and, all things considered, he may choose to do it; yet he may do it out of fear, and the very thing in itself is irritating to him, and truly against his own desires. When men do these things, it cannot be said that they did them according to their good pleasure.


2. The will of God is called His good pleasure, in opposition to its being under the will of another.
A servant may carry out his master's commands, and may do it willingly, and cheerfully, and may delight to do his master's will; yet when he does it, he does not do it of his own good pleasure. The saints freely do the will of God. They choose to do it; it is what satisfies their soul. Yet they do not do it of their own good pleasure and arbitrary will; because their will is under the direction of a superior will.


3. The will of God is called His good pleasure, in opposition to any personal obligation.
A man may freely do something which he is obliged to do; but it cannot be said that he acted from his own sheer will and pleasure. He who acts according to his own good pleasure, is at full liberty; but he who is under any personal obligation, is not at liberty, but is bound.
Now the sovereignty of God infers, that God has a right to dispose of all His creatures according to His good pleasure. And His right is absolute and independent. Men may have a right to dispose of some things according to their pleasure. But their right is not absolute and unlimited. Men may be said to have a right to dispose of their own goods as they please. But their right is not absolute; is has limits and bounds. They have a right to dispose of their own goods as they please, provided they do not do it contrary to the law of the state to which they are subject to, or contrary to the law of God. Men's right to dispose of their things as they will, is not absolute, because it is not independent. They do not have an independent right to what they want, but in some things depend on the community to which they belong, for the rights they may have; and in everything they depend on God. They receive all the rights they have to do anything from God. But the sovereignty of God means that God has an absolute, and unlimited, and independent right of disposing of his creatures as He pleases.


II. What does God's sovereignty in the salvation of men imply?
In answer to this question, I note, that it implies, that God can either bestow salvation on any man or woman, or refuse it, without any distortion to the glory of any of His attributes, except in the cases where He has been pleased to declare, that He will or will not bestow it-then He must be faithful to His word, He is now bound by His own promise.


As it stands today, it cannot be absolutely stated, that God can, without any distortion to the honor of His attributes, bestow salvation on any man or woman, or refuse it; because, concerning some, God has been pleased to declare either that He will or that He will not bestow salvation on them; and thus He is now bound by His own promise.
Now concerning those that God has been pleased to declare, that He will “never” bestow salvation on them; that is, the non-elect, those who have been left in their sins, and especially in the sin of unbelief in Christ-the sin against the Holy Spirit. In their case, God is obligated; He cannot bestow salvation on them, without violating His declared truth, since He has declared that He will not save any who have sinned against the Holy Spirit.God exercised His sovereignty in making these declarations. God was not obligated to promise that He would save all who believe in Christ; nor was He obligated to declare, that He who committed the sin against the Holy Spirit would never be forgiven. But it pleased Him to declare these things. And if God had not been pleased to obligate Himself in these cases, He could have still either bestowed salvation, or refused it, without dishonor to any of His attributes.


If there would have been any dishonor, to any of God’s attributes by bestowing or refusing to give salvation, then God would not in that matter act as absolutely sovereign. Because it then ceases to be a merely arbitrary thing. It ceases to be a matter of absolute liberty, and has become a matter of necessity or obligation. For God cannot do any thing that would dishonor any of His attributes, or be contrary to what is in itself excellent and glorious.
Therefore,

1. God can, without discredit to the glory of any of His attributes, bestow salvation on any man, woman, or child, except on those who have committed the sin against the Holy Spirit.
This was the case when man fell, and before God revealed His eternal purpose and plan for redeeming men by Jesus Christ. It was probably looked upon by the angels as a thing utterly inconsistent with God's attributes to save anyone from the human race. It was utterly inconsistent with the honor of the divine attributes to save any of fallen mankind, as they were lost in their sins. It could not have been done had not God contrived a way consistent with the honor of His holiness, majesty, justice, and truth. But since God, in the gospel, has revealed that nothing is too hard for Him to do, nothing beyond the reach of His power, and wisdom, and sufficiency; and since Christ has provided the work of redemption, and fulfilled the law by obeying it completely, therefore there is no one, of all mankind, whom He can save that would ever cause any prejudice to any of His attributes, except those who have committed the sin against the Holy Spirit.


And even those who have committed the sin against the Holy Spirit could have been saved by Christ without going contrary to any of his attributes, had He not been pleased to declare that He would not. It was not because He could not have saved them consistent with His justice, and consistent with His law, or because His attribute of mercy was not great enough, or the blood of Christ was not sufficient to cleanse from that sin. But it has pleased God, for wise reasons, to declare that that sin shall never be forgiven in this world, or in the world to come. And so now it is contrary to God's truth to save such persons. But otherwise there is no sinner, no matter how great his sin has been, that cannot be saved by God, and without any prejudice to any of His attributes; if he has been a murderer, adulterer, or perjurer, or idolater, or blasphemer, God can save him if He pleases to, with no dishonor to His glory.

1. God may save anyone He pleases, without prejudice to the honor of His holiness.
God is infinitely holy. The heavens are not pure in His sight. His eyes are too pure to look on evil; and cannot tolerate wrong. And if God should in any way tolerate sin, and should not give proper evidence of His hatred of it, and displeasure at it, it would be a distortion of the honor of His holiness. But God can save the greatest sinner without giving the least approval of sin. If he saves one, who for a long time has resisted the calls of the gospel; if he saves one who, fighting against the truth, has been a pirate or blasphemer, He may do it without giving any support to their wickedness; because His abhorrence of it and displeasure against it have already been sufficiently manifested in the sufferings of Christ. It was a sufficient testimony of God's hatred against even the greatest wickedness, that Christ, the eternal Son of God, died for it. Nothing can show God's infinite abhorrence of any wickedness more than this. If the wicked man himself should be thrown into hell, and should endure the most extreme torments throughout eternity, it would not be a greater manifestation of God's abhorrence of it, than the sufferings of the Son of God for it.


2. God may save any man, woman, or child without prejudice to the honor of His majesty.
No matter how much men have insulted God, no matter how much contempt they have shown to His authority; still God can save them, if He pleases, and the honor of His majesty does not suffer in the least. If God should save those who have insulted Him, without payment for the dishonor they have shown to Him, then the honor of His majesty would suffer. For when contempt is cast upon infinite majesty, its honor suffers, and the contempt leaves a darkness on the honor of the divine majesty, if the injury is not repaired. But the sufferings of Christ do, in fact, fully repair the injury. Let the contempt be ever so great, yet if so honorable a person as Christ undertakes to be a Mediator for the offender, and in the mediation suffers in His place, then it fully repairs the injury done to the majesty of heaven by the greatest sinner.


3. God may save any sinner whatsoever consistent with His justice.
The justice of God requires the punishment of sin. God is the Supreme Judge of the world, and He is to judge the world according to the rules of justice. It is not the duty of a judge to show favor to the person judged; but he is to determine according to a rule of justice without departing to the right hand or left. God does not show mercy as a judge, but as a sovereign. And therefore when mercy sought the salvation of sinners, the question was, how to make the exercise of the mercy of God as a sovereign, and of the exercise His strict justice as a judge, agree together. And this was done by the sufferings of Christ, in which sin was fully punished, and justice satisfied. Christ suffered enough for the punishment of the sins of the greatest sinner that ever lived. So that God, when He judges, may act according to a rule of strict justice, and yet acquit the sinner, if the sinner is in Christ. Justice cannot require any more for any man's sins, than those sufferings which Christ suffered. Romans 3:25, 26. “God presented Him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in His blood. He did this to demonstrate His justice; so He may be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”


4. God can save any sinner whatsoever, without any prejudice to the honor of His truth.
God has declared in His word, that sin would be punished with death, which is to be understood not only of the first physical death, but also of the second death-in the eternal Lake of Fire. God can save the greatest sinner consistent with His truth in this Divine threat. For sin is punished in the sufferings of Christ, inasmuch as He is our representative, and so is legally the same person, and sustained our guilt, and in His sufferings bore our punishment. Some may object, saying that God had said, When you eat of the forbidden fruit, then you will surely die; therefore, the same person that sinned must suffer; and doesn’t God's truth oblige Him to do that? I answer, that the word then was not intended to be restricted to Adam alone. Adam most likely understood that his descendents were included, whether they sinned in their own person or not. If they sinned in Adam, their representative, those words, "When you eat,” meant, “When you yourself eat, or if your representative eats,” then you yourself will surely die.”


II. But, God may refuse salvation to any sinner, without prejudice to the honor of any of His attributes.

There is no person in their natural sinful state, whom God has determined to refuse to bestow salvation, that can ever cause any dishonor to any part of God’s glory. Let a natural person be wise or unwise, of a good or ill-natured temper, whether born of wicked or godly parents; let him be a moral or immoral person, whatever good he may have done, however religious he has been, how many prayers whatsoever he has made, and whatever pains he has taken that he may be saved; whatever concern and distress he may have for fear he shall be damned; or whatever circumstances he may be in; God can deny him salvation without the least criticism to any of His perfections. His glory will not in any instance be the least obscured by it.

1. God may deny salvation to any natural person without any injury to the honor of His righteousness.

If He does so, there is no injustice nor unfairness in it. God can take any natural man, whatever his case may be, God can deny him salvation, and throw him down into hell, and yet not be chargeable with the least unrighteous or unfair dealing in any respect whatsoever. This is evident, because all mankind have deserved hell: and it is no injustice for a righteous judge to inflict on any man or woman what they deserve. And since they have deserved condemnation, and have never done any thing to remove the liability, or to atone for the sin. They have never done anything which would obligate God not to punish them as they deserve.

2. God may deny salvation to any unconverted person without any prejudice to the honor of His goodness.

Sinners sometimes flatter themselves, that though the justice of God condemns them, yet it will not be consistent with the glory of His mercy. They think it will be dishonorable to God's mercy to throw them into hell, and show no pity or compassion on them. They think it would be very harsh and severe, and not becoming a God of infinite grace and tender compassion. But God can deny salvation to any natural person without any criticism to His mercy and goodness. That, which is consistent to God's justice, is not contrary to His mercy. If damnation is justice, then mercy may choose its own object. They mistake the nature of the mercy of God; they think that it is an attribute, which, in some cases, is contrary to justice. No, God's mercy is illustrated by it, as in the twenty-third verse of Romans, chapter 9, “He did this to make the riches of His glory known to the objects of His mercy, whom He prepared in advance for glory.”

3. God can deny salvation to anyone and never dishonor His faithfulness.
God has in no way obliged Himself to any natural man by His Word to bestow salvation upon him. Men in their natural condition are not the children of promise; but lie open to the curse of the law, which would not be the case if they had any promise to lay hold of.


III. God does actually exercise His sovereignty in men's salvation.

1. God exercises His sovereignty by calling a people or a nation, and giving them the opportunities of grace, and leaving others without them.
According to the divine appointment, salvation is bestowed in connection with the provisions of grace. God may sometimes make use of very unlikely opportunities, and bestow salvation on men who are under very great disadvantages; but He does not bestow grace wholly without any means. But God exercises His sovereignty in bestowing those means. All nations are by nature in like circumstances towards God. Yet God greatly distinguishes some nations and peoples from others by the opportunities and advantages which He bestows upon them.


God showed His sovereignty, when Christ came, in rejecting the Jews, and calling the Gentiles. God rejected that nation who were the children of Abraham according to the flesh, and had been His special people for many ages, and who alone possessed the one true God, and yet God chose the idolatrous heathen Gentiles over them, and called them to be His people. When the Messiah came, who was born of their nation, and whom they so much expected, He rejected them. “He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him” [John 1:11].
When the glorious dispensation of the gospel came, God passed by the Jews, and called those who had been heathens, to enjoy the privileges of it. The Jews were broken off, that the Gentiles might be grafted in (Romans 11:17). “I will call her 'my loved one' who is not my loved one” [Romans 9:25] And there are more children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband” [Isaiah 54:1]. The natural children of Abraham are rejected, and God raises up children to Abraham from stones. That nation, which was so honored of God, have now been for many ages rejected, and remain dispersed all over the world, a remarkable monument of divine vengeance. And further, God now greatly distinguishes some Gentile nations from others, and all according to His sovereign pleasure.


2. God exercises His sovereignty in the advantages He bestows upon individual persons.
Everyone needs salvation, and everyone is naturally, undeserving of it; but He gives some vastly greater advantages for salvation than others. To some He assigns their place in godly Christian families, where they may be well instructed and educated, and have Christian parents to dedicate them to God, and say many prayers for them. God places some under a more powerful ministry than others, and in places where there are more of the outpourings of the Spirit of God. To some He gives much more of the strivings and the awakening influences of the Spirit, than to others. It is according to His mere sovereign pleasure.


3. God exercises His sovereignty in sometimes bestowing salvation on the lowly and poor, and denying it to the wise and great.
Christ in His sovereignty passes by the gates of princes and nobles, and enters some cottage and dwells there, and has communion with its obscure inhabitants. God in His sovereignty withheld salvation from the rich man, who lived luxuriously every day, and bestowed it on poor Lazarus, who sat begging at his gate. God in this way pours out contempt on princes, and on all their glittering splendor. So God sometimes passes by wise men, men of great understanding, learned and great scholars, and bestows salvation on others of weak understanding, who only comprehend some of the plainer parts of Scripture, and the fundamental principles of the Christian religion. Yes, there seem to be fewer great men called, than others. And God in ordering it thus manifests His sovereignty. The Apostle Paul said, “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things-and the things that are not-to nullify the things that are” [1 Corinthians 1:26-28].


4. God exercises His sovereignty in bestowing salvation on some who have had very few advantages in life.
God sometimes will withhold salvation from those who are the children of very devout parents, and bestow it on others, who have been brought up in wicked families. Thus we read of Abijah, the only good son of the wicked Jeroboam, and of a godly Hezekiah, the son of wicked Ahaz, and of a godly Josiah, the son of a wicked Amon. But on the contrary, of a wicked Amnon and Absalom, the sons of holy David, and that vile Manasseh, the son of godly Hezekiah.
Sometimes some, who have had obvious opportunities of grace, are rejected, and left to perish, and others, under far less advantages, are saved. Thus the scribes and Pharisees, who had so much light and knowledge of the Scriptures, were mostly rejected, and the poor ignorant tax collectors saved. The greater part of those, heard Christ preach many times, and saw Him work miracles from day after day, yet they were not chosen to receive salvation; and yet the woman of Samaria was chosen for eternal life, and many other Samaritans at the same time, who only heard Christ preach, as He occasionally passed through their city. So the woman of Canaan was elected for salvation, who was not of the country of the Jews, and only once saw Jesus Christ. So the Jews, who had seen and heard Christ, and saw His miracles, and with whom the apostles labored so much, were not saved. But the Gentiles, many of them, who, as it were, only briefly heard the good news of salvation, embraced those truths, and were converted.
5. God exercises His sovereignty in calling some to salvation, who have been dreadfully wicked, and leaving others, who have been moral and religious persons.
The Pharisees were a very strict sect among the Jews. Their religion was extraordinary. (Luke 18:11). They were not like other men, extortioners, unjust, or adulterers-that was their morality. They fasted twice a week, and gave tithes of all that they possessed-that was their religion. But yet, for the most part, they were rejected, and the tax collectors, and prostitutes, and openly vicious sorts of people, entered into the kingdom of God before them. (Matthew 21:31). The Apostle Paul describes his righteousness while he was a Pharisee, saying, “as for legalistic righteousness, I was faultless” (Philippians 3:6). The rich young man, who fell on his knees before Christ, saying, ‘Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’”-this man was a moral person. When Christ told him keep the commandments, he said, with all sincerity, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” He had obviously been brought up in a good family, and was a youth of such agreeable manners and correct behavior, that it is said, “Jesus looked at him and loved him.” Still he was not chosen; while the thief on the cross, that was crucified with Christ, was chosen and called. God sometimes shows His sovereignty by showing mercy to the worst of sinners, on those who have been murderers, and blasphemers. And even when they are old, some are called at the eleventh hour. God sometimes shows the sovereignty of His grace by showing mercy to some, who have spent most of their lives in the service of Satan, and have little left to spend in the service of God.


6. God exercises His sovereignty, in saving some of those who seek salvation, and not others.
Some who seek salvation, as we know both from Scripture and observation, are quickly converted; while others seek for a long time, and do not obtain it. God helps some over the mountains and difficulties which are in the way; He subdues Satan, and delivers them from his temptations: but others are ruined by the temptations with which they meet. Some are never thoroughly awakened; while to others God is pleased to give thorough convictions. Some are left to backsliding hearts; others God causes to hold out to the end. Some are brought down from a confidence in their own righteousness; others never get over that obstruction in their way, as long as they live. And some are converted and saved, who never strived after salvation, as others who, in the end, perish.


So God's sovereignty over men appears glorious, that it extends to everything which concerns them. He may dispose of them with respect to all that concerns them, according to His own pleasure. His sovereignty appears glorious, in that it reaches their most important affairs, even the eternal state and condition of the souls of men. In this it appears that the sovereignty of God is without bounds or limits, in that it reaches to a matter of such infinite importance-eternal life. Therefore, God has determined to manifest His own glory, by exercising His sovereignty over men, especially over their souls and bodies, even in this most important matter of their eternal salvation. “God has mercy on whom He wants to have mercy, and He hardens whom He wants to harden.” .

That is a seriously long post... aren't you glad for the handy ctrl-c, ctrl-v features on your computer?? :-)

Hello from Montreal, Canada.
My name is Wren and I just happened upon your blog today.
I have a family friendly discussion forum, and am trying to get discussion on various sects...or just plain old christian discussion! There is a christian section which already has a couple of threads (sects) in progress. Please feel free to join in the discussion or, if you don't see your church mentioned in any of the topic titles in that section, please feel free to create your own new topic for it.
http://s3.invisionfree.com/Hearts_Afire
Registration is free and the forum rules can be found here....
http://s3.invisionfree.com/Hearts_Afire/index.php?showtopic=1854
It would be an honour to have you post there...that is if you wish to, of course.
Have a wonder filled day!

I had a french teacher back in grade 4 or something and her name was mademoiselle Wren. I don't think I liked her, and I can remember my dad making fun of her after parent-teacher interviews. Weird memory.

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