An Introduction to the Sovereign Gospel

John MacArthur provides a succinct introduction to the doctrine of God’s sovereignty when it comes to salvation. This Grace to You message comes from Ephesians 1:3-6.

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

ABSOLUTE Predestination

ABSOLUTE Predestination

I just finished reading Jerome Zanchius’ book that a dear brother was so kind to give me. Wow! I Clipboard01wept and rejoiced and thanked the Lord for faithful men who have gone before. Thanks be unto God for the dear brother who worked to bring this book back to life. Absolute Predestination is an awesome work explaining systematically and biblically why this doctrine is true, what it means, and why it must be preached. I will treasure this book until the Lord deems my days are done. What follows is a short review and exhortation for my brothers and sisters to take this book and read. You can buy it here:

This current publication is from Free Grace Press and includes a very informative introduction by Joel Beeke. Zanchius was an Italian who lived in the early to mid 16th century, grew up as a Roman Catholic and served as a monk. It was during this time he read some Martin Luther, Martin Bucer, and John Calvin and was soon converted into a Christian. He lived the balance of his life studying, teaching, and writing and was widely considered a highly valued author of Reformed theological studies – all of which were in Latin. Nearly 200 years later, an Englishman ran across his Latin writings on predestination. Augustus Toplady was converted in his teen years and held to the free will teachings of his contemporary, John Wesley; until “an old man challenged him to stop arguing long enough to ask himself: Did he have any part in obtaining God’s grace? Wouldn’t he have resisted God’s grace if the Spirit left him to his own will? These questions from a Wesleyan brother stabbed him to the quick.” And so Toplady began a study on the sovereign grace of God, learned Hebrew and Greek, and embraced the sweet doctrines of grace commonly called Calvinism.

Toplady served in many churches as pastor, but initially held back from preaching on sovereign grace – focusing his sermons on justification by faith and holiness of life, as was taught by Wesley. “People liked his preaching, but few were converted. When he began preaching predestination as the eternal source of our salvation in Christ, many were angry with him, but many other were truly converted to Christ.” Amen! This is how the true gospel works – it was how the Apostle Paul experienced it. The true gospel (for there is no other gospel) is preached. Some will hate you for it, others will rejoice and beg to hear more. Those who have been given ears to hear will hear! Praise God!

As time went by, Toplady conversed with Wesley and denounced his old teacher. As A.W. Pink turned a bit sharp in his criticism of dispensationalism once he left that theological train wreck, so did Augustus Toplady in his critique of the spiritual ship wreck of Arminianism.

Toplady translated Zanchius’ book into English and, by his own admission, heavily edited it in places to as to provide a more complete treatise on the topic. It is hard to tell where one writer hands off to the other, as the reader works his way through this book. With that, here’s a brief review of this most excellent little book. Zanchius lays out each chapter as a progressive argument, moving through myriad positions as he documents six key areas that help us comprehend the sovereignty of God and our need of Him.

The Preface is written by Toplady and titled Observations on the Divine Attributes. We are quickly introduced to this author and this work by two stark statements. “I cannot help standing astonished at the pride of impotent, degenerate man. … The Scripture doctrine of predetermination lays the axe to the very root of this potent delusion.” Having personally left Wesley’s doctrine behind, Toplady declares that this book is needed because “Arminianism is the grand religious evil of this age and country.” We can only imagine what he might have said in response to Charles Finney! In bringing his preface to a close, Toplady reminds us that words have meaning, or else they are worthless, and then defines predestination as “God’s determinate plan of action.” And then he reservedly reveals his opinion on the theological construct he had left behind – “He that made all things either directs all things he has made, or has consigned them over to chance. But what is chance, but a name for nothing. Arminianism, therefore, is Atheism.”

Zanchius’ first chapter has the same name as Toplady’s Preface – they are not the same! In this opening chapter, our servant of God desires us to know more about the Lord, acknowledging He is beyond our comprehension, but not entirely; and that He wants us to know Him as He has revealed Himself in Scripture. Zanchius’ pen will help us better understand: (1) God’s eternal wisdom and foreknowledge; (2) The absolute freedom and liberty of His will; (3) The perpetuity and unchangeableness both of Himself and His decrees; (4) His omnipotence; (5) His justice; and (6) His mercy. Without these attributes explained, Zanchius claims the doctrine of predestination cannot be properly grasped. While every argument in this chapter is worth careful reading, the series of statements and expositions under (2) cannot go without special mention. Here is the summary paragraph from the end of that section:

“From the whole of what has been delivered under this section head, I would observe that the genuine tendency of these truths are not to make men more indolent and careless, or lull them to sleep on the lap of presumption and carnal security, but (1) to fortify the people of Christ against the attacks of unbelief and the insults of their spiritual enemies. And what it so fit, to guard them against these, as the comfortable persuasion of God’s unalterable will to save them, and of their unalienable interest in the sure mercies of David? (2) To withdraw them entirely from all dependence whether on themselves or to any creature whatever; to make them renounce their own righteousness, no less than their sins, in point of reliance,and to acquiesce sweetly and safely in the certain perpetuity of His rich favor. (3) To excite them, from a trust of His goodwill toward them, to love God who has given such great and numberless proofs of His love to men, and, in all their thoughts, words, and works, to aim, as much as possible, at His honour and glory.”

Is this not the goal of Christian exhortation and life? What Christian would be opposed to this?

In chapter 2, titled Defining Terms, we are given biblically based expositions on The Love of God, The Hatred of God, Election, Reprobation, The Purpose of God, Foreknowledge, and Predestination. This last is presented with a four-fold definition. (1) God did from before time determine and ordain to create and dispose of all creation with the over-arching reason to bring glory to Himself. (2) As relates to mankind, God created Adam in His image and allowed him to fall and take all humanity (and creation) with him as the federal head. (3) As relates to the elect, God chose before time to redeem some in time by faith in Christ. Such are justified, adopted, sanctified, and preserved safely to the end of this age. (4) As regards the reprobate, it is God’s eternal sovereign and immutable will whereby He has determined to leave some men in their sin to be justly punished.

Chapters 3, 4, and 5 discuss predestination as it relates to All Men, to the Saints, and the Ungodly. It is most useful to see this doctrine discussed in detail in these three distinct applications, as much confusion reigns among men when important terms are not defined and applied properly. In the 3rd chapter, Zanchius shows from Scripture that God has predestined the ends of men, that He decreed The Fall, that the elect will be saved, the reprobate damned. Each of these is explored in detail after a brief introduction. The chapter closes with a wonderful quote from Augustine: “Brethren, let us not imagine that God puts down any man in His book and then erases him, for if Pilate could say, ‘What I have written, I have written,’ how can it be thought that the great God would write a person’s name in the book of life and then blot it out again?”

Predestination of the Saints, chapter 4, ought to give everyone born of the Spirit joy and supreme assurance of being safe in the refuge of Christ – it is full of Scriptural support for the monergistic saving act of God in the life of every saint. Zanchius includes two excellent bits of counsel as he wraps us this most important chapter – Christians ought to believe the redeemed standing of other Christians (based on sober reflection of evidences that bear witness to same). For how, he asks, can we love one another rightly if we do not believe they, also, are loved with same everlasting love as we? Then he remands us to never judge any man to be a reprobate. He says that we may infer the election of some by the marks and appearances of grace in their lives, but we cannot know sure enough to claim that any person is damned while he yet breathes – because a man who is a reprobate today may have been chosen before time and decreed to repent and believe upon Christ tomorrow! Presumption is sinful and we ought not walk in it; we are, rather, to walk in humility and love – proclaiming the saving gospel to dead men everywhere.

Chapter 5 presents Predestination as it relates to the Ungodly – something I dare say most of us have not thought of. But just as there will be those on the Lord’s right hand on that great day of judgment, there will also be those on His left hand (Matt 7). In explaining predestination to the Romans, Paul reminds us what God had said – “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated”. So in Matt 7, when Jesus is telling those on His left hand that He never knew them, He is saying, “I have always hated you.” How differently we tend to discuss the enemies of God in our day! Our mantra is, “God loves everybody” or “God is love”, as if He had but one dimension. There can be no true, biblical love from God if He is compelled to love everyone. He cannot be holy if He accepts those who are not justified. God does not “hate the sin but loves the sinner.” He is angry with sinners all day long! While some will hate this talk, it is the revelation from God Himself – and redeemed saints ought not to shy away from uncomfortable truths.

The last chapter is Predestination as it Relates to the Preacher. In this surprising (to me) chapter, the author makes the case that preaching this doctrine is necessary for the spiritual health of God’s people that He has gathered in each local church. He warns, “Let it, however, be preached with judgment and discretion, i.e., delivered by the preacher as it is delivered in Scripture, and no otherwise.” This doctrine is such that men twist it and deny it – meaning that the wisdom of man is totally insufficient to explain or defend it. So Scripture alone is the rule. Further, since “Election is the golden thread that runs through the whole Christian system,” any gospel preached without it is not the gospel!

Zancius invites us ponder Matt 11:25 & 26, in which he declares that “Christ thanks the Father for doing that very thing which Arminians exclaim against us is unjust, and censure us as partial.” And in Matt 24:22 – 24 the Lord “teaches (1) that there is a certain number of persons who are elected to grace and glory, and (2) that it is absolutely impossible for these to be deceived into total or final apostasy.” Preachers must preach predestination and the sovereignty of God because “Whilst a man is persuaded that he has it in his power to contribute anything, be it ever so little, to his own salvation, he remains in carnal confidence.” This may be the biggest concern in churches in our day – so many men convinced they are “OK with God” because they chose Him! They think God did His share and they must do theirs – not realizing that this system leaves them on the wrong side of the Tiber river. Predestination gives sinners a more accurate picture of both God and man, showing the grace of God – which stands against human worthiness. A footnote shows from Scripture why this doctrine must be preached, for the good of the saints – “do not my words do good to him that walks uprightly?” (Mic 2:7)

There truly is too much good and godly counsel in this book for me to comment on it all. But let this review close out with this glorious exhortation from this dear brother from another century.

“How sweet must the following considerations be to a distressed believer! (1) There most certainly exists an almighty, all-wise and infinitely gracious God. (2) He has given me in times past, and is giving me at present (if I had but eyes to see it), many and signal intimations of His love to me, both in a way of providence and grace. (3) This love of His is immutable; He never repents of it nor withdraws it. (4) Whatever comes to pass in time is the result of His will from everlasting, consequently (5) my afflictions were a part of His original plan, and are all ordered in number, weight and measure, (6) The very hairs of my head are (every one) counted by Him, nor can a single hair fall to the ground but in consequence of His determination. Hence (7) my distresses are not the result of chance, accident or a fortuitous combination of circumstances, nor of Satan getting ahead of God, but (8) the providential accomplishment of God’s purpose, and (9) designed to answer some wise and gracious ends, nor (10) shall my affliction continue a moment longer than God sees meet. (11) He who brought me to it has promised to support me under it and to carry me through it. (12) All shall, most assuredly, work together for His glory and my good, therefore (13) “The cup which my heavenly Father hath given me to drink, shall I not drink it?” Yes, I will, in the strength He imparts, even rejoice in tribulation; and using the means of possible redress, which He has or may hereafter put into my hands, I will commit myself and the event to Him, whose purpose cannot be overthrown, whose plan cannot be disconcerted, and who, whether I am resigned or not, will still go on to work all things after the counsel of His own will.”

At the end of this book, I was left undone by the glorious mercies of God, in choosing to save His enemies – and me being counted among the redeemed. If that last paragraph does not cause your soul to rejoice in wonder and praise and adoration – you need to examine yourself to see if you be in the faith. Christ is all glorious, all powerful, and victorious. By His blood he has purchased a people to be trophies of grace that He will present to our Father on that great and terrible day when all the deeds of men will be judged. The earth and sky will try to flee from the face of God and the wrath of the Lamb, but there will be no place to hide. But ALL whose names were written in the Lamb’s book of Life before the foundation of the world shall be welcomed to the wedding feast when the Lord consummates His eternal plan of redemption! Christ is our refuge and strong tower – He is sufficient! We need no other plea. Run to Christ, cry out for mercy. Seek Him while it is yet today.

Sermon of the Week: “The Sovereignty of God”

The clarion call of the mush-mouthed preachers of lies that please the flesh is “God is love!” – as if almighty God was a one-dimensional character who is simpering in inability masquerading as “love”. The Creator and sustainer of all things is complex beyond our ability to comprehend. He is holy and His love is not captive by the creature. His love is primarily directed to and for Himself. We who are redeemed are loved with an everlasting love that God has set upon His elect – that we would shine the light of His Truth for the glory of His name.

God is sovereign, not trapped by a Greco-Roman perspective of human love that we may project upon our image of God. We must submit our mind to the Word of God and embrace what He has revealed – about Himself and us.

I don’t know the man preaching this sermon, but it will be good for your soul; and the glory of God.

Quotes (808)

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. Accepting the fact that He is the “Most High,” the only Potentate and King of kings, vested with perfect wisdom and illimitable power, and the conclusion is irresistible that He must be God in fact as well as in name.

– A.W. Pink (“The Sovereignty Of God”)
1886 – 1952