God’s Sovereignty


Man’s Responsibility


            In studying issues relating to God's sovereignty and man's responsibility (with respect to salvation) it is important to hold to a balanced Biblical position. Many have erred by emphasizing one side of the truth to the neglect of the other side. The pendulum swings, ridiculous extreme, bypassing truth which lies somewhere between. It is our desire in this study to let the Scriptures speak for themselves and to examine both sides of the issue.


            God's sovereignty and man's responsibility are both clearly taught in the Word of God. At times these truths seem irreconcilable to our puny, finite minds. We do not understand how they can both be true. God has not told us that we need to fully understand these things; however we do need to humbly bow before the authority of His Word and believe what God has revealed, even though we may not fully understand it. Divine sovereignty and human responsibility are like railroad tracks. As we look at them they appear to be parallel and we cannot see how they could ever come together, but when we look at them in the far distance at the horizon, they meet. So it is with these God-revealed truths. We have trouble seeing how they come together, but in the mind of God there is no problem at all.


            The danger comes when men emphasize one truth to the neglect of the other. God's truth must be kept in careful balance, and we must not tend toward extremes in either direction. Man's responsibility must not be over-emphasized to the neglect of God's sovereignty and God's sovereignty must not be over-emphasized to the neglect of man's responsibility. Both are clearly revealed on the pages of Scripture and both must be believed and received as God's truth.

            Dr. Harry Ironside gave the illustration of the sinner coming to the door of salvation (John 10:9). Above the door was a sign which says, "Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely" (Rev. 22:17). The sinner responds to this gracious invitation, trusts Christ and he is gloriously saved. He now turns around and looks at the door through which he had just entered. He sees above the door another sign which says, "Chosen...in Him before the foundation of the world" (Eph. 1:4). Both are true. Both are taught in the Bible. Both must be believed.

            Sir Robert Anderson, in the preface to his book Forgotten Truths, said this: "In the early years of my Christian life I was greatly perplexed and distressed by the supposition that the plain and simple words of such Scriptures as John 3:16; 1 John 2:2; 1 Timothy 2:6 were not true, save in a cryptic sense understood only by the initiated. For, I was told, the over-shadowing truth of Divine sovereignty in election barred our taking them literally. But half a century ago a friend of those days (the late Dr. Horatius Bonar) delivered me from this strangely prevalent error. He taught me that truths may seem to us irreconcilable only because our finite minds cannot understand the Infinite; and we must never allow our faulty apprehension of the eternal counsels of God to hinder unquestioning faith in the words of Holy Scripture."

            In this paper we will seek to let the Bible speak for itself, presenting both sides of the question. We will consider certain issues relating to God's sovereignty and man's responsibility.


(God must do the saving!)


(Man must do the believing!)

Those who are saved have only God to thank!

Those who are lost have only themselves to blame!

"Thy people shall be willing in the day of Thy power" (Psalm 110:3).

"Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it. But My people would not hearken to My voice; and Israel would none of Me. So I gave them up unto their own hearts' lust: and they walked in their own counsels. Oh that my people had hearkened unto Me, and Israel had walked in My ways!" (Psalm 81:10-13)

"And she shall bring forth a Son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for He shall save His people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21).

"Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to ALL PEOPLE. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:10-11).

"All things are delivered unto Me of My Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him" (Matthew 11:27).

"Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28).

"And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 16:16-17).

"I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am He, ye shall die in your sins" (John 8:24).

"But for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened" (Matthew 24:22).

"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!" (Matthew 23:37).

"Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you" (John 15:16).

"And He saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left their nets, and followed Him" (Matthew 4:19-20).

"For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom He will" (John 5:21).

"Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth My Word, and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life" (John 5:24).

"All that the Father giveth Me shall come to Me..." (John 6:37a)


["All that the Father giveth Me"--see John 6:37,39; 17:2,6,9,11,12,24.]

"...and Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out" (John 6:37b).

"No man can come to Me, except the Father which hath sent Me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto Me. ....Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto Me, except it were given unto him of My Father" (John 6:44,45,65).

"And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to Me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on Me shall never thirst" (John 6:35).

"And ye will not come to Me, that ye might have life" (John 5:40). [God was willing to give them LIFE; they were unwilling to come to Christ.]

"For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call" (Acts 2:39).

"And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved" (Acts 2:47).

"Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:37-38).

"Save yourself from this untoward generation" (Acts 2:40).

"As many as were ordained to eternal life believed" (Acts 13:48).

"Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this Man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And by Him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses" (Acts 13:38-39).

"Lydia...whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul" (Acts 16:14).

"And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved" (Acts 16:30-31).

"There is none that seeketh after God" (Romans 3:10).

"That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after Him, and find Him, though He be not far from every one of us....He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him" (Acts 17:27; Heb.11:6).

"...through grace" (Acts 18:27b)

"(those who) had believed..." (Acts 18:27a)

"Moreover whom He did predestinate, them He also called: and whom He called, them He also justified: and whom He justified, them He also glorified" (Romans 8:30).

"Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe....But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.

"For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of Him that calleth....I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy...Therefore hath He mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth" (Romans 9:11,15-16,18).

"Whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed....That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved....Whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon Him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved....So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God....But to Israel He saith, All day long I have stretched forth My hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people" (Romans 9:33; 10:9,11-13,17,21).

"According as he hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world....Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will" (Eph. 1:4-5).

"That we should be to the praise of His glory, who first trusted in Christ. In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise" (Eph. 1:12-13).

"For by grace are ye saved...

through faith" (Eph. 2:8).

"But we are bound to give thanks always to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: Whereunto He called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Thess. 2:13-14).

"And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved....That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness" (2 Thess. 2:10,12).

"Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began" (2 Timothy 1:9).

"For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth....because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe" (1 Timothy 2:3-4; 4:10).

"Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:2).

"Who by Him do believe in God, that raised Him up from the dead, and gave Him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God. Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently" (1 Peter 1:21-22).

"And they that are with Him are called and chosen, and faithful" (Rev. 17:14).

"And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely" (Rev. 22:17).

            Those who are saved have only God to thank; those who are lost have only themselves to blame. God gets all the credit for man's salvation; the unsaved man must take full blame and responsibility for his eternal damnation. The saved person thankfully says, "I'm in heaven because of God!" The lost person must truthfully say, "I'm in hell because of me!" Those who are damned will never be able to blame God or say, "I'm damned because God did not choose me." Their damnation is based not upon God's rejection of them but upon their rejection of God: "He that believeth not shall be damned" (Mark 16:16). "That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness" (2 Thess. 2:12 and compare verse 10). "And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life" (John 5:40).

            Man does not contribute to his own salvation. It is the work of God, "not of works lest any man should boast" (Eph. 2:8-9). God does not contribute to man's unbelief. That is man's work. God alone must do the saving. Man must do the believing. God must get all the glory and all the credit: "That no flesh should glory in His presence....That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord" (1 Cor. 1:29,31). Unbelieving man must take the blame. The believer saved by grace can gratefully sing, "To God be the glory great things He hath done!" "Oh to grace how great a debtor daily I'm constrained to be!"

Would you really like to know that you are one of God's elect? Then come as a poor sinner and accept His invitation; for He says, "Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden" (Matt. 11:28). If you do that, you are one of God's elect. Remember election is God's business, leave it with Him! Believing is YOUR business; do it, and God will not fail! Jesus puts the two together in one verse: "All that the Father giveth Me shall come to me." That's GOD'S part. But now notice the rest of the verse: "And him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out" (John 6:37). That's YOUR part! If you will come, you can rest assured that it was the work of God Himself which motivated you. --Dr. M.R.DeHaan (from Our Daily Bread)

        I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew He moved my soul to seek Him—seeking me;

        It was not I that found, O Saviour true; No, I was found of Thee. --Anon.





Examples of Wicked Men Fulfilling God's Plan



"God did send me before you to preserve life....God sent me before you...to save your lives" (Gen. 50:5,7).

"I am Joseph whom ye sold into Egypt....ye sold me hither" (Gen. 50:4-5).

...but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive" (Gen. 50:20).

"Ye thought evil against me...

"And truly the Son of man goeth, as it was determined...

...but woe unto that man by whom He is betrayed" (Luke 22:22).

"Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God...

...ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain" (Acts 2:23).

"But those things, which God before had showed by the mouth of all his prophets, that Christ should suffer, He hath so fulfilled" (Acts 3:18).

"...His Son Jesus; whom ye delivered up, and denied Him in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let Him go. But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you; And killed the Prince of life" (Acts 3:13-15).

"For to do whatsoever Thy hand and Thy counsel determined before to be done" (Acts 4:28).

"The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against His Christ. For of a truth against thy Holy Child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together" (Acts 4:26-27).




To illustrate the smugness and ugly exclusivism of some extreme Calvinists, the following is a verse from an old Particular Baptist hymn:

              We are the Lord's elected few, Let all the rest be damned;

              There's room enough in Hell for you, We won't have heaven crammed!

                                             (Cited by Robert Sumner in The Biblical Evangelist).







Election (God from the beginning choosing some to salvation) is taught in the Bible.

Reprobation (God from the beginning choosing some to damnation) is not taught in the Bible.

"God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation" (2 Thess. 2:13).

The Bible does not teach that God from the beginning has chosen some to damnation. Why are people damned? Is it because they are not chosen? No, this same passage in 2 Thessalonians says that they perish "because they received not the love of the truth." They are damned because they "believed not the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness" (2 Thess. 2:10,12).

"Then shall the King say unto them on His right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you [by God] from the foundation of the world" (Matthew 25:34).

Note: After reading verse 34, we might expect verse 41 to say, "Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared [by God] for you from the foundation of the world." But the Bible does not say this. Rather we read:

"Then shall He say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41).

"And that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had afore prepared unto glory" (Rom. 9:23)

Note: Based on verse 23, we might expect verse 22 to say this: "The vessels of wrath, which He (God) had afore fitted to destruction." But it does not say this. Rather, it says:

"What if God, willing to show His wrath, and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction" (Rom. 9:22). [It does not say that God fitted these people to destruction]

The following is by C.H.M.:


He, blessed be His Name, has not confined Himself within the narrow limits of any school of doctrine, high, low, or moderate. He has revealed Himself. He has told out the deep and precious secrets of His heart. He has unfolded His eternal counsels, as to the Church, as to Israel, the Gentiles, and the wide creation. Men might as well attempt to confine the ocean in buckets of their own formation as to confine the vast range of divine revelation within the feeble enclosures of human systems of doctrine. It cannot be done, and it ought not to be attempted. Better far to set aside the systems of theology and schools of divinity, and come like a little child to the eternal fountain of Holy Scripture, and there drink in the living teachings of God's Spirit.


Nothing is more damaging to the truth of God, more withering to the soul, or more subversive of all spiritual growth and progress than mere theology, high or low—Calvinistic or Arminian. It is impossible for the soul to make progress beyond the boundaries of the system to which it is attached. If I am taught to regard "The Five Points" as "the faith of God's elect," I shall not think of looking beyond them; and then a most glorious field of heavenly truth is shut out form the vision of my soul. I am stunted, narrowed, one-sided; and not only so, but I am in danger of getting into that hard, dry state of soul which results from being occupied with mere points of doctrine instead of with Christ.


A disciple of the high school of doctrine will not hear of a world-wide gospel—of God's love to the world—of glad tidings to every creature under heaven. He has only gotten a gospel for the elect. On the other hand, a disciple of the low or Arminian school will not hear of the eternal security of God's people. Their salvation depends partly upon Christ, and partly upon themselves. According to this system, the song of the redeemed should be changed. Instead of "Worthy is the Lamb'," we should have to add, "and worthy are we." We may be saved today and lost tomorrow. All this dishonors God, and robs the Christian of all true peace.

                          C.H.Mackintosh, "One Sided Theology," The Mackintosh Treasury


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God's Willingness and Man's Unwillingness