The Sovereignty of God, which Dr. Fred Klooster defines as that which “expresses the very nature of God as all-powerful and omnipotent, able to accomplish his good pleasure, carry out his decreed will, and keep his promises” is very clear when we see our Sovereign God actively at work in CREATION (ie. as our Creator); in PROVIDENCE (ie. as our Provider); and in REDEMPTION (ie. as our Redeemer).
Isaiah 44:24: “This is what the Lord (Yaweh – the self-existent, covenant making, covenant keeping God of Israel) says – your Redeemer, (the One who pays a ransom price to set His people free) who formed you in the womb.” Notice the close connection between the Lord God as our Creator and as our Redeemer! I highlight this at the very beginning of this series because again, as Dr. Boettner writes, “The harmony that exists between the various doctrines of the Christian faith is such that error in regard to any one of them produces more or less distortion in all of the others.”
In this portion of our text, God speaks of Himself not simply as our Creator generally (ie. “v.24 b – Í am the Lord, who has made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself”), but He is also speaking here of Israel and of each and every believer specifically – “v.24a .. who formed you in the womb.” Now, that is true “physically”, is it not? Indeed it is! For that is why in Psalm 139:13-14 the Psalmist David prays, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”
When we allow Scripture to interpret Scripture (ie. as we apply the Analogy of Faith, as always we must), we find that it is also true that God is our Creator spiritually! Indeed, the Psalmist David says, “Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you even at my mother’s breast. From birth I was cast upon you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God.” (Psalm 22:9, 10).
In similar fashion, in the New Testament, in Colossians 2:13-15 the Apostle Paul declares, “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; He took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”
Question: Does a baby have anything to do physically with their being conceived and born? (of course not!) Can someone who is physically dead make himself alive? (of course not!) The Bible says that the very same thing is absolutely true spiritually! In John 3, Jesus said to Nicodemus, “‘I tell you the truth, unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ ‘How can a man be born when he is old?’ Nicodemus asked. ‘Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!’” (John 3:4,5).
Nicodemus knew that this was true physically! Jesus goes on to tell him that this very same thing is true spiritually “I tell you the truth, unless a man is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘you must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:5–8).
In other words, physical and spiritual birth are completely “outside of our control”! To be born both physically and spiritually is the sovereign work and the saving work of the Holy Spirit of our God!! That is why, in strikingly similar fashion in Ephesians 2:1:4-5 Paul writes, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins … But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.”
The Bible clearly teaches that all people are spiritually dead and cannot cause themselves to be born again! How can our Arminian brothers and sisters profess, teach, and preach that in order for anyone to be saved they must, out of an exercise of their own free will, believe in a benevolent but ultimately impotent God who is patiently and persistently pleading with him to “please believe”.
More importantly, how can so many of our Reformed brothers and sisters place themselves and their children under such preaching and teaching? How can they place themselves under the teaching of those who believe that people must, of their own free will, accept or reject Jesus Christ who by His blood shed on Calvary made the way of salvation possible for everyone? Can’t they see that what is being taught is that Jesus accomplished the salvation of no one unless they personally, of their own free will, contribute the good work of their own saving faith? How does that square with the biblical teaching that we are by nature dead in our sins and enslaved to Satan?
When we follow this Arminian teaching to its logical conclusion we sadly discover that we are worshipping a God who sincerely desires, but unfortunately, is ultimately unable to save all those whom He supposedly wants to save simply because of the stubborn resistance of frail, finite, sinful men. This, of course, represents a rank denial of the glorious biblical, Reformed doctrines of God’s Unconditional Election as well as of His Irresistible Grace! And that, for both ourselves as well as for our children, is a very serious spiritual matter, indeed.
Dr. Loraine Boettner writes, “Any system which teaches that the serious intentions of God can in some cases be defeated, and that man, who is not only a creature but a sinful creature, can exercise veto power over the plans of Almighty God, is in striking contrast to the biblical idea of His immeasurable exaltation by which He is removed from all the weaknesses of humanity. That the plans of men are not always executed is due to a lack of power, or a lack of wisdom, or both. But since God is unlimited in these and in all other resources, no unforeseen emergencies can arise. To Him the causes for change have no existence. To assume that His plan fails and that He strives to no effect is to reduce Him to the level of His creatures and make Him no God at all.”
Praise be to God that one of The Riches of the Reformed Faith is the realization of the fact that the Sacred Scriptures repeatedly proclaim The Sovereignty of God in our Creation – both physically, as well as spiritually!
In Isaiah 45, the Lord God uses the pagan Persian King Cyrus as an example of His providential power and sovereignty. This King was not yet born for some 200 years when the Prophet Isaiah penned the words of this prophecy under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit!
In Isaiah 45:1 we read “This is what the Lord says to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of” This mighty, pagan Persian king was nothing but a pawn in the hand of the King of Kings and Lord of Lord’s, the sovereign God of the universe! This ought not to surprise us! We read in Proverbs 21:1, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.”
It ought not surprise us that in the Old Testament prophecy of Ezra, penned some 200 years after the prophecy of Isaiah was made, we read, “In the first year of Cyrus King of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus King of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing: ‘This is what Cyrus King of Persia says: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Anyone of his people among you – may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem. And the people of any place where survivors may now be living are to provide him with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with freewill offerings for the temple of God in Jerusalem’” (Ezra 1:1–4). Glory! Glory be to our Sovereign God!
After speaking extensively concerning the great success with which Cyrus would be blessed by the Lord in vv.1–3, we read in Isaiah 45:7 “I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity (Hebrew: shalom; overall peace, health and well-being) and create disaster (or, calamity).” Certainly this does not refer to sin or evil. God cannot and does not create these things! But God is indeed in control of all calamities – even though we may not understand such things at the time, things such as: suffering and sickness, the death of a child, the loss of a loved one; the incredible devastation of a natural disaster; a terrorist attack, and so on. In fact, you could have the greatest Department of Homeland Security in all the world, but rest assured that no citizen, no city, no country is safe except by the plan and power and providence of God! …“I, the Lord, do all these things.”
That is why in Deuteronomy 29:29 we read, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God…”, and in Psalm 131:1 David writes, “…I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me”; and in Belgic Confession Article 13 we read “And as to what He does surpassing human understanding, we will not curiously inquire into farther than our capacity will admit of; but with the greatest humility and reverence adore the righteous judgments of God, which are hid from us, contenting ourselves that we are pupils of Christ, to learn only those things which He has revealed to us in His Word, without transgressing these limits.”
At times such as these, times when my own heart and mind are also crying, “WHY? WHY?” I seek to find comfort, courage, peace and assurance in verses 9 and 10 of Isaiah 45 where we read, “Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker, to him who is but a potsherd (clay pottery) on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter ‘what are you making?’ Does your work say, ‘he has no hands’? Woe to him who says to his father, ‘what have you begotten?’ or to his mother, ‘what have you brought to birth?’
Allow me to illustrate this biblical truth this way:
The story is told of a pastor who went to visit one of the widows in his congregation one day when he found her busily weaving a beautiful tapestry. While she weaved he was recounting with her all of the heartache and hard-times of her life, and he asked her where she found the strength to carry on. She smiled and said, “Well, you see, pastor, my life – our lives – are a lot like this tapestry. If you look underneath, all you see are knots and tangles – it looks a mess! But from the top it appears that things are turning out just right!” The pastor understood what she was saying: she drew her strength from the realization that the tapestry well represents how our lives are lived before the face of God. We are looking up from the underside, up from amidst all of the many problems, pressures and pains of earth – asking “Why?” All we see are knots and tangles. God is looking down from His sovereign throne in heaven saying, “It’s all right my child, it’s all right …everything is coming together just fine.” Indeed, this is what God promises us in Romans 8:28 where we read, “And we know (though we may not always feel!) that in all things (not just some things) God works for the good for those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Therefore, let us always remember to rest and to rejoice in The Sovereignty of God in Providence as our Provider.
In Isaiah 45:20-22 we read,
“Gather together and come; assemble, you fugitives from the nations. Ignorant are those who carry about idols of wood, who pray to gods that cannot save. Declare what is to be, present it – let them take counsel together. Who foretold this long ago, who declared it from the distant past? Was it not I, the Lord? And there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me. ‘Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.’”
Here the Lord declares that which theologians refer to as “the external gospel call,” namely, the universal call, indeed, the imperative command from the King for all people everywhere to “Turn to me (Hebrew: turning from and turning to, that is, true repentance) … and be saved” (Hebrew: or, delivered; that is, not simply from captivity in Babylon but even more essentially from death and eternal damnation). In verse 23 we read, “By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear.”
The Apostle Paul expounds upon this theme in Philippeans 2:11 “…and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord , to the glory of God the Father” What the Apostle Paul as well as the Prophet Isaiah are both professing is not “universal salvation”, but they are professing “universal submission” to our Sovereign God and to His Son, Jesus Christ, as the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords!
As Isaiah 45 concludes, the Lord declares in verses 24–25, “They will say of me, ‘In the Lord alone are righteousness and strength.’ All who have raged against him (and indeed, many are the enemies of the cross and Church of Christ) will come to him and be put to shame. But in the Lord (as we are united with God in Christ by grace alone through faith alone –a faith which is not of ourselves; ie., not of our own free will as Paul writes in Eph. 2:8–9, “but it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast”) all the descendants of Israel will be found righteous and will exult.”
Notice a few very important points concerning this portion of our text. First of all, Isaiah here is not speaking of physical, national Israel. Many of them remained idolaters and unrepentant and unbelieving. Rather the prophet is speaking of a spiritual Israel consisting of Jew and Gentile which is the Church of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
While many of our Arminian brothers and sisters believe that a Christian can lose their salvation by failing to maintain their faith and good works, the Reformed faith professes the Perseverance (or preservation) of the Saints! This biblical doctrine teaches that all true believers are kept in faith by the power of El Shaddai – God Almighty. Once a person is truly saved they will, by God’s grace, persevere to the end and so be saved! That is why the Apostle Paul passionately proclaims in Philippeans 1:6, “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
Secondly, when Isaiah makes reference to “all the descendants of Israel” the clear implication is that God will not fail to save a single one of His elect! Not a single soul whose sins Christ paid for will perish! Imagine the gross injustice God would perpetrate if He condemned to hell those who sins had already been paid for and completely covered by the blood of Christ on Calvary! And yet that is precisely what our Arminian brothers and sisters believe and teach!
The Bible says that not a single soul whom God has sovereignly decreed to save will ever be able to frustrate His sovereign, saving purpose in their heart, soul and life! In fact, they “will be found righteous.” They will be justified – legally declared not guilty in God’s heavenly court because of the imputed righteousness of Christ which is credited to their account by grace alone through faith alone. The result of such a grand, glorious, guaranteed, and gracious salvation? They will exult Jehovah! Peter writes “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your soul” (I Peter 1:8,9).
On February 2, 2003 the headline of the North Jersey Herald News read: “Columbia is Lost” – There Are No Survivors – “Seven astronauts die 16 minutes shy of safe return.” Of course, ever since this terrible tragedy concerning one of the U.S. space shuttles occurred, there have been all sorts of NASA reflections and related reports filled with such statements as “what if” and “if only.”
Let us take comfort and courage from this: even in the Columbia space tragedy, and indeed, also in all matters of Creation, Providence and Redemption … there absolutely are no “what if’s” and “if only’s” with God! That is why in time and for all eternity, no matter what the particular circumstances of our lives may be at any given moment on any given day, all those can and will and well ought to rejoice who by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior profess and proclaim THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD … one of THE RICHES OF THE REFORMED FAITH.
Rev. Richard J. Kuiken is the pastor of the Reformed Bible Church in Pompton Plains, New Jersey.