God’s Sovereignty and Human Freedom

I have noticed that when people oppose the view of God’s sovereignty that Calvinists hold, the majority of the time they misrepresent the Calvinists’ views on it. Here are some quotes by Calvinists.

I’m not looking for a debate which is why I don’t try to characterize those who disagree, just posting some quotes.

R.C. Sproul:

The Sabeans and Chaldeans were free to choose [to steal Job’s animals and kill his servants – Job 1:13-15], but for them, as for us, freedom always means freedom within limits. We must not, however, confuse human freedom and human autonomy. There will always be a conflict between divine sovereignty and human autonomy. There is never a conflict between divine sovereignty and human freedom. The Bible says that man is free, but he is not an autonomous law unto himself.

Suppose the Sabeans and Chaldeans had prayed, ‘Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’ I’m absolutely certain that Job’s animals would still have been stolen. But I’m equally certain that the Sabeans and Chaldeans would not have been responsible because their prayer would have altered the entire situation. There is freedom within limits, and within those limits, our prayers can change things. The Scriptures tell us that Elijah, through prayer, was given power to command the rain. He was not dissuaded from praying by his understanding of divine sovereignty.

No human being has ever had a more profound understanding of divine sovereignty than Jesus. No man ever prayed more fiercely or more effectively. Even in Gethsemane he requested an option, a different way. When the request was denied, he bowed to the Father’s will. The very reason we pray is because of God’s sovereignty, because we believe that God has it within his power to order things according to his purpose. That is what sovereignty is all about—ordering things according to God’s purpose. So then, does prayer change God’s mind? No! Does prayer change things? Yes, of course!

A.W. Pink, Gleanings In Joshua:

…theologians have so often gone wrong, by attributing either too much or too little unto the creature. Only by cleaving very closely to Holy Writ as a whole — and not by singling out detached fragments — are we preserved from serious error.

On the one hand, we must see to it that we return right answers to the questions, ‘For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive?’ (1 Corinthians 4:7); on the other, we must give due place to such exhortations as ‘Strive to enter in at the strait gate’ (Luke 13:24) and ‘Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest’ (Hebrews 4:11); and not ignore such statements as ‘knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance’ (Colossians 3:24).

Only thus will the balance of truth be preserved.

It is indeed true that the child of God has nothing good or spiritual but what the Lord has freely bestowed upon him. But does that mean he is as passive a ‘receiver’ as the earth is when fructified by heaven’s refreshing showers and genial sunshine?

Great care needs to be taken in answering that question lest we contradict the Word of Truth.

Certainly he is no cooperator with Christ in the work of his redemption. There is not the least warrant for us to say, ‘God will do His part if we do ours.’ There is no dividing of the honors: the glory is God’s alone, and we have no ground for boasting. Most assuredly the elect have nothing to do with their election, for God chose them in Christ before the foundation of the world, and there is not a line in His Word to show that His choice was determined by anything praiseworthy which He foresaw in them. Those ordained to be vessels of honor were ‘clay of the same lump’ as the vessels appointed to dishonor. Nor had they a thing to do with their redemption, for all that was required to make atonement for their sins and reconcile them to God was accomplished by Christ centuries before they existed. Nor had they anything whatever to do with their regeneration, for they were dead in trespasses and sins when the Spirit quickened them into newness of life.

But it is quite wrong to infer from the above that the regenerated soul remains a passive agent. Equally wrong is it to suppose that he is how possessed of any self-sufficiency, that his new nature empowers him to perform his duty. Though he has become a living branch of the Vine, yet he is entirely dependent upon the Vine’s nourishing and fructifying. But we must not confine ourselves to that particular figure and relationship. The Christian is a moral agent, and grace has been given him to improve.

Eternal life is a Divine gift (Romans 6:23), but we are to ‘lay hold on’ it (1 Timothy 6:12). The celestial inheritance is ‘the purchased possession’ of Christ for His people (Ephesians 1:14), yet it is also ‘the reward’ of service unto the Lord (Colossians 3:24). Grace is freely given, but we are to use it, and must improve the same if we would receive more (Luke 8:18; Matthew 25:16). ‘Seek the Lord, and His strength: seek His face evermore’ (Psalm 105:4) — there is the meeting-place of the two sides! We have no sufficiency of our own, but if grace be duly sought (Hebrews 4:16) then ‘our sufficiency is of God’ (2 Corinthians 3:5).

John MacArthur:

How these two sides of God’s truth—His sovereignty in choosing us (Romans 9) and our responsibility to confess and believe (Romans 10)—reconcile is impossible for us to understand fully. But Scripture declares both perspectives of salvation to be true (John 1:12-13). It’s our duty to acknowledge both and joyfully accept them by faith.

3 Responses to “God’s Sovereignty and Human Freedom”

  1. 1 stuart

    To add to your list, a quote from the Westminster Confession of Faith . . .From WCF 3.1 . . .God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.

  2. 2 Bryon

    I’ve noticed that also about the issue of God’s sovereignty. I’ve attended both synergistic and Calvinist groups. I’ve found that Calvinists and their opponents misrepresent each other at times and talk past each other, unfortunately.

  3. 3 Michael Flynn

    Interesting write up. I can confess that I struggle with this concept on some levels.  I basically align myself along Calvinist theology but yet I sometimes wonder how mankind’s freedom plays into all of this.For instance, we have the freedom to accept or reject Jesus Christ as our savior.  We pray for friends or family members for salvation.  How far does God go to answer those prayers when the final decision on a person’s salvation rests with their decision on accepting Jesus or not.While I may not understand it, I acknowledge the fact that God is in control and just because I’m unable to fully comprehend how God works doesn’t mean its any less true.I really like the articles, it puts a lot of the sovereignty issues in perspective.

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