Divine Sovereignty & Human Responsibility

If you want to stir up a discussion between Christians, just raise the issue of Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility.

Nathan W. Bingham in his website’s post entitled Charles Spurgeon’s Evangelistic Fervor writes –

Throughout his prolific ministry, Charles Spurgeon sought to maintain the important balance the Scriptures give to divine sovereignty and human responsibility. Perhaps no preacher ever held these two truths more carefully in balance. Being committed to the full counsel of God, Spurgeon embraced both truths with equal allegiance. He clung tenaciously to God’s sovereignty in the salvation of His elect, but he was equally convinced of the mandate to extend the offer of the gospel to every person. Emphasizing one of these truths to the exclusion of the other, he believed, would result in an unbalanced ministry.

Spurgeon was once asked how he could reconcile the apparent contradiction between these two truths. He replied: “I never have to reconcile friends. Divine sovereignty and human responsibility have never had a falling out with each other. I do not need to reconcile what God has joined together.” He confessed: “Where these two truths meet I do not know, nor do I want to know. They do not puzzle me, since I have given up my mind to believing them both.” Spurgeon simply embraced both divine sovereignty and human responsibility as clearly taught in the pages of Scripture.

I’m using this citation this morning as an illustration of the amazing, balanced statement preached by the Apostle Peter as part of his Pentecost Day sermon.

“This man (Jesus of Nazareth) was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.”  (Acts 2:23)

Divine sovereignty = God’s plan. The death of Jesus was no accident but took place in God’s time and in God’s way with God’s full approval. We don’t live in a ‘random’ world but one of order and design, established firmly by the will and purpose of the one and only Triune God. Read through the gospel accounts and see Jesus operating under full submission to His Father’s will.

Just yesterday I preached from John 2:1-11 where the miracle of Jesus turning water into wine is recorded. I noted that Mary is referred to not by her proper name but as Jesus’ mother. When she comes and ‘informs him’ (as if He didn’t know), that the wine supply for the wedding was exhausted, Jesus asks, “Dear woman, why do you involve me? My time has not yet come.” Elsewhere in the gospels, when His mother and brothers show up, while He is speaking to a crowd, He asks, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?”  Pointing to His disciples, He said, “Here are my mother and my brothers….”

Jesus came, not to do His own will, or the will of His mother, but that of His Heavenly Father.

It is a great mystery that the will of God is woven into our lives while we carry full responsibility for our actions.

  1. Judas didn’t hand Jesus over to His enemies by his own strength, though he carried responsibility for this evil. God’s set purpose and foreknowledge were being accomplished.
  2. Roman soldiers carried out the execution of crucifixion, yet Jesus had said to His followers, “I have power to lay my life down and power to take it again. No-one takes my life from me….”

I think Spurgeon’s summary statement, cited by Nathan W. Bingham, reflects biblical truth. We may well find these truths to be mysterious, but let us yield to the clear and unmistakable teaching of God’s word.  Let us pray today as we should every day, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”


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