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The Meaning of Sovereign Grace

By Evangelist Rolfe Barnard (1904-1969)


Why do we use the double term sovereign grace? What does it mean and what is implied by the epithet “sovereign” as attached to the term “grace”? The answer is immediately at hand. The whole so-called “Christian world” professes to believe in salvation by grace. Only a remnant within the whole believes in Sovereign Grace. I am happy to be found among the latter group. The popular conception of salvation by grace is that God used to be holy, but now He has found a way to let man off easier. Nearly all of the major groups talk of salvation by grace and it means, usually, whatever the holder of the view thinks it means. I am trying simply to say this; there seems to be no division among professing Christians as to salvation by grace, as the term is loosely and widely used – but there is a wide and real division among them when we consider the term “Sovereign Grace”! Because I believe there is no grace save sovereign grace, I use the term and dedicate my own ministry, unprofitable as it is, to the expounding of sovereign grace and to the calling of the ministry back to similar action.

(1) What do the terms grace and sovereign mean? One of the attributes of God is goodness. The goodness of God is the divine essence seen as energized benevolently and kindly towards the creature; “I will be gracious – I will be merciful”, Saith the Lord. “The Lord is plenteous in mercy.” “The Lord delights to show mercy.” Mercy and grace are varieties of God’s goodness. Grace has reference to sinful man as guilty, while mercy has respect to sinful man as miserable.

(2) This attribute (goodness) expressed in grace and mercy is free and sovereign in its exercise. “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” Exodus 33:19. The goodness of God is infinite and circumscribed by no limits; but the exercise of His goodness may be limited by Himself. God is necessarily good in His nature, but free in His communication of it. If the Bible is plain about anything it is plain about the fact that God must be just to all men; He may be merciful to some. God owes all men justice; He owes no man mercy or grace! A sovereign God exercises mercy and grace as it seems good to Him. “At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of Heaven and Earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Thy sight.” Matthew 11:25-26.

(3) Actually God exercises mercy in a general manner toward all men. Anything this side of hell is mercy! Mercy is found in and by the works of creation and providence and the delay of punishment, but special grace or saving grace and mercy in Christ are only exercised in redemption and regeneration toward those whom a sovereign God is pleased to save. Ephesians 1:3-7; Romans 9:11-16. This is our battle cry! How seldom it is heard, yet it is the very truth of truths.

If you will consider the history of the preaching of sovereign grace, you will arrive at the startling fact that every great period of spiritual awakening this world has ever known has come in connection with such preaching. Brethren, history and the pale imitation of revival present among us today, demand a restudy of and a return to the truth of grace in the hands of a Sovereign, whose exercise of mercy is optional within and to Himself.

The preaching of sovereign grace is not therefore the giving of undue prominence to any single doctrine of scripture. It is rather the proclaiming of a sovereign God graciously dealing with sinners as it pleases Him. We are often and somewhat vociferously accused of being guilty of the first part of this statement. This writer would certainly join in condemning the same. It is quite true that there is danger here. Any doctrine isolated from the whole body of revealed truth becomes perverted doctrine.The preaching of sovereign grace is not an enemy of true evangelism! Let me hasten to say that the preaching of sovereign grace will kill deader than a doornail the message and method of present-day evangelism! And some of us believe with a deadly intensity that the false message and method must be killed before the true message and method can become effective. We further believe that the only way this can be done is by the preaching of truth about God, the truth about man, and the truth about Christ who died and lives that God might be just and justified. These lines will appeal to no one who is happy about the results of evangelism today, but should you be one of many who mourn here, you will join in the task of raising up again the standard of sovereign grace.

A sovereign Christ is almost unheard of in church circles today: A Christ into whose hands all things have been given, who has all authority; who gives life and quickens whom He will, who decides the destinies of all men; who is Lord over all flesh (See Matthew 28:18-20; John 3:35; John 17:2; Romans 14:9; John 5:21). Present-day evangelism, for the most part, poses to men the question, “What will you do with Jesus?” Bible or true evangelism poses the question, “What will the sovereign Christ do with me?”

Present-day evangelism says to men, “Believe and be born again.” Bible evangelism says to men, “Be born again so you can believe.” The one makes the new birth depend on an act of men, the other on an act of God. Present-day evangelism takes for granted God’s mercy and grace, rather than marvelling at them in adoration and worship. Hear Paul say, “I obtained mercy.” Hear Peter say, “to all who have obtained like precious faith.” How I long to hear this note in the churches today! Salvation today is a physical rather than a spiritual matter. The preaching of sovereign grace is the need of the hour if we shall be true to God’s Word and true to the souls of men.


Subjugation to Satan

By Arthur W. Pink

Fourth, the fall has issued in man’s becoming the bondslave of Satan. That is another mysterious but very real thing, about which we can know nothing except what is revealed in Holy Writ; but its teaching leaves us in no doubt about the fact. It reveals that men are morally the devil’s children (Acts 13:10; I John 3:10), that they are his captives (2 Timothy 2:26) and under his power (Acts 26:18; Col. 1:13), that they are determined to do what he wants (John 8:44). He is described as the strong man armed, who holds undisputed possession of the sinner’s soul, until a stronger than he dispossesses him (Luke 11:21-22). It speaks of men being "oppressed of the devil" (Acts 10:38), and declares, "The 'god' of this world [the inspirer and director of its false religions] hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image [Revealer] of God, should shine unto them" (2 Corinthians 4:4). The heart of fallen man is the throne on which Satan reigns, and all the sons of Adam are naturally inclined to yield themselves slaves to him. The awful reality of his enslaving men was authenticated beyond the possibility of doubt by the cases of demoniacal possession in Christ’s day.

The corrupt nature of men gives Satan the greatest advantage against them, for they are as ready to comply as he is to tempt. No age or condition of life is exempted from his assaults. He adapts his evil solicitations according to their varied temperaments and tempers, and they are easily overcome. The longer he rules over men the more guilt they contract, and the more they come under his dominion. To be his bondslave is to be in a state of abject misery, for he purposes the eternal ruin of his victims, and every step they take in that direction furthers his evil designs and increases their wretchedness. He is as ready to laugh at and mock them for the pangs and pains which their folly brings on them as he was to tempt and solicit their service. Yet he has no right to their subjection. Though God permits Satan to rule over the children of disobedience, He has given him no grant or warrant which renders it lawful for him to do so. Thus he is a usurper, the declared enemy of God, and though sinners are allowed to yield themselves up to the devil’s control, that is far from being by divine approbation.

Ephesians 2:2-3 contains the most clear and concise description of this awful subject: "Wherein [a status and state of being dead in trespasses and sins] in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience." The world and the prince of the power of the air are definitely linked together, for the dead in sin are said to "walk according to" the one equally as the other—the only difference being that the second statement is amplified by the clauses which follow, where we are shown why they walked thus. The identifying of the world with Satan is easily understood. Three times our Lord called him "the prince of this world," and I John 5:19 declares that "the whole world lieth in wickedness." The world is distinguished from the church of Christ—the children of God. The radical difference between the two opposing companies was intimated at the beginning in the word of Jehovah to the serpent, when He made mention of "thy seed" and "her seed." Those two seeds were referred to by Christ in His parable of the tares, and designated by Him as "the children of the kingdom" and "the children of the wicked one" (Matt. 13:38).

Our Lord also spoke of the "kingdom" of Satan (Matt. 12:26), referring not only to his power and dominion, but to his subjects and officers being an organized company—in opposition to "the kingdom of... [God’s] dear Son" (Col. 1:13). Thus "the world" signifies "the world of the ungodly" (II Peter 2:5), not only the sum total of the children of the devil in contradistinction from the children of God, but all the unregenerate, which augments their strength and malignity. When coals, each on fire, are placed together, the fire is increased. In like manner there is an intensification from this union of all parts of this "world." Its "course" connotes, first, its "age" or time, each generation having a more or less distinct character, but essentially the same "evil world" (Gal. 1:4). Second, the word means the mold or manner of the world, its custom or way of life—its "spirit" (I Cor. 2:12) and "fashion" (I Cor. 7:31). The unregenerate walk according to the same maxims and morals; they do as the majority of their fellowmen do, because each has the same depraved nature.

"According to the prince of the power of the air." The world is what it is because it is under the dominion of Satan. The mass of the unregenerate are likened to the sea (Isa. 57:20); being bound by a common nature they all move together as the waters of the sea follow the tide. Goodwin said:

If the wind comes and blows upon the sea, how it rageth, how strong are the streams then’. There is breath, a spirit, the spirit of the power of the air, namely the Devil sendeth forth an influence whereby, as the wind that bloweth upon the trees, which way it bloweth, so he bloweth and swayeth the hearts of the multitude one way...when all the coals lie together, they make a great fire, but if the bellows be used they make the fire more intense.

The Holy Spirit has here given us a double explanation of why the unregenerate follow the course they take. As each one enters and grows up in the world, being a social creature, he naturally goes with the drove of his fellows; and possessing the same evil lusts he finds their ways agreeable to him. The world, then, is the exemplary cause according to which men shape their lives, but the devil is the impelling cause.

Since the fall this malignant spirit has entered into human nature in a manner somewhat analogous to that in which the Holy Spirit dwells in the hearts of believers. He has intimate access to our faculties. and though he cannot, like God’s Spirit, work at the roots to change and transform their tendencies, yet he can ply them with representations and delusions which effectually incline them to fulfill his behests. He can cheat the understanding with appearances of truth, fascinate the fancy with pretenses of beauty, and deceive the heart with semblances of good. By a whisper, a touch, a secret suggestion, he can give an impulse to our thoughts and turn them into channels which exactly serve his evil designs. Men not only do what he desires, but he has a commanding power over them, as his being termed a prince plainly implies; and therefore they are said to be "taken captive... at his will" (II Tim. 2:26), and when converted they are delivered from his power (Col. 1:13). Yet he does not work immediately in all hearts, as the Holy Spirit does in the regenerate, for he is not omnipresent, but employs a host of demons as his agents.

One man can influence another only by external means, but Satan can also affect from within. He is able not only to take thoughts out of men’s minds (Luke 8:12), but to place thoughts in them, as we are told he "put into the heart of Judas" to betray Christ (John 13:2); he works indiscernibly as a spirit. As men yield to and comply with the devil’s insinuations, he gains increasing control over them, and God permits him to enter and indwell them, as Matthew 12:29 shows. When Satan would incite anyone to some particularly awful sin he takes possession of him. We read that the devil, after Judas had consented to the vile insinuation which he had put into his heart, "entered into" Judas (Luke 22:3), in order to ensure the carrying out of his design by strengthening the traitor to do his will. The word for "entered" is the same as in Mark 5:13 where the unclean spirits entered into the herd of swine, which brought about their destruction. Satan is able to "fill the heart" (Acts 5:3), giving an additional impulse to evil, as a person filled with wine is abnormally fired. But let it be noted that there is no record in Scripture of either the devil or a demon ever taking possession of a regenerate person.

Though the devil works thus in men, and works effectually, yet all their sins are their own. The Spirit is careful to add "worketh in the children of disobedience." Man consents first, then the devil strengthens his resolution. That appears again in Peter’s reproaching of Ananias for yielding to temptation: "Why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?" Satan does no violence either to the liberty or the faculties of men, disturbing neither the spontaneity of the understanding nor the freedom of the will. As the work of God’s Spirit in His elect is by no means inconsistent with their full responsibility and their entire moral agency, so the work of the devil in the reprobate makes it nonetheless their work; therefore the dupes of his craft are without excuse for their sins.

Unlike the Holy Spirit, the devil has no creative power. He can impart no new nature, but only avail himself of what is already there for him to work on. He avails himself of the constitution of man’s nature, especially of his depravity as a fallen being. He gives impetus and direction to man’s free but evil tendencies. Rightly did Goodwin point out that "as no man doth sin because God decrees him to sin, and therefore none can excuse himself with that; so no man can excuse himself with this, that Satan worketh in him."

Here then is the nature of human depravity as seen from the positive side. The fall has brought man into subjection to the power of death, into hopeless bondage to sin, into complete spiritual blindness. Man has become the bondslave of Satan. In that dreadful state he does not possess a particle of power to deliver himself or even to mitigate his wretchedness. In addition, his heart is filled with enmity against God.

Click Here to read the entire book on-line by Arthur Pink titled
"The Doctrine of Human Depravity"

The Christian's Spiritual Warfare, True Enemy,
Armor, and ONLY Weapon

The Believer's Weapons of Warfare
Are Spiritual, Not Fleshly

The Value and Characteristics of Love

Click Here to read

(1 Corinthians 13, New King James Version)

Truth—Or The Consequences

It is Christ or Hell—there are no other alternatives (John 14:5-6, 3:36, Mark 16:15-16)

Truth out of balance is error; a half-truth is more dangerous than outright error because, masquerading as the whole truth, it is not easily recognized as error, and therefore more deceptive. Both can damn the soul to Hell. (See 2 Timothy 2:15.)

Examples of the dangers of truth out of balance may be seen in almost every aspect of doctrine and practice. When the sovereignty of God in salvation is emphasized to the exclusion of man's responsibility, the resulting error is hyper-calvinism. When man's responsibility is emphasized to the exclusion of God's sovereignty in salvation, the resulting error is arminianism. When justification is emphasized to the exclusion of sanctification, the resulting error is antinomianism. When the free grace of God in salvation is emphasized to the exclusion (or minimization) of good works and holy living, the resulting error is the abuse and misuse of grace. When sanctification (holy living and good works) is emphasized to the exclusion (or minimization) of justification by the free grace of God through the substitutionary, atoning sacrifice of Christ, the resulting error is legalism, or self-righteousness. To avoid these errors, we must seek to hold and practice all these precious truths in the same harmony and balance with which they are taught in God's Word. This is vitally true for those of us who hold or believe the doctrines of grace—we should be especially careful that we have the grace of the doctrines both in our lives and in our testimonies.

The Apostle Paul told the elders of the Ephesian church that he was pure from the blood of all men because he had not shunned to declare unto them all the counsel of God, the central doctrine of which is the cross of Christ (Acts 20:26-28, 1 Corinthians 1:18-24, 2:1-2, Galatians 6:14), Who is Lord over all (Romans 14:9, Acts 2:36, Philippians 2:5-11).

Christ's Humiliation in His Incarnation

"Great is the mystery of godliness, God was manifest in the flesh."
(1 Timothy 3:16)

(The following are quotes from a chapter in
A Body of Divinity," by Thomas Watson)

"See here, as in a glass, the infinite love of God the Father; that when we had lost ourselves by sin, God, in the riches of his grace, sent forth his Son, made of a woman, to redeem us. And behold the infinite love of Christ, in that he was willing thus to condescend to take our flesh. Surely the angels would have disdained to have taken our flesh; it would have been a disparagement to them. What king would be willing to wear sackcloth over his cloth of gold? but Christ did not disdain to take our flesh. Oh the love of Christ! Had not Christ been made flesh, we had been made a curse; had he not been incarnate, we had been incarcerate, and had been for ever in prison. Well might an angel be the herald to proclaim this joyful news of Christ’s incarnation."

"Behold here a sacred riddle or paradox: 'God manifest in the flesh.' That man should be made in God's image was a wonder, but that God should be made in man's image is a greater wonder. That the Ancient of Days should be born, that he who thunders in the heavens should cry in the cradle; . . . that he who rules the stars should suck the breast; that a virgin should conceive; that Christ should be made of a woman, and of that woman which himself made; that the branch should bear the vine; that the mother should be younger than the child she bare, and the child in the womb bigger than the mother; that the human nature should not be God, yet one with God . . . Christ taking flesh is a mystery we shall never fully understand till we come to heaven, when our light shall be clear, as well as our love perfect."

"Why he came: That he might take our flesh, and redeem us; that he might instate us into a kingdom. He was poor, that he might make us rich. (2 Cor. 8:9). He was born of a virgin, that we might be born of God. He took our flesh, that he might give us his Spirit. He lay in the manger that we might lie in paradise. He came down from heaven, that he might bring us to heaven. And what was all this but love? If our hearts be not rocks, this love of Christ should affect us. Behold love that passeth knowledge! Ephesians 3:19."

One Function of the Law of God: To Show Us Our Need of the Saviour

"The divine Spirit wounds before He heals, He kills before He makes alive. We usually draw a distinction between law-work and Gospel-work; but law-work is the work of the Spirit of God, and is so far a true Gospel-work that it is a frequent preliminary to the joy and peace of the Gospel. The Law is the needle which draws after it the silken thread of blessing, and you cannot get the thread into the stuff without the needle: Men do not receive the liberty wherewith Christ makes them free till, first of all, they have felt bondage within their own spirit driving them to cry for liberty to the great Emancipator, the Lord Jesus Christ. This sense or spirit of bondage works for our salvation by leading us to cry for mercy."C. H. Spurgeon, as quoted in "The Law and the Gospel," by Ernest Reisinger

The Law Established, Magnified, and Honored by Christ
(Isaiah 42:21, Romans 3:31)

See also, "Justification"

The Lord Jesus Christ—Jehovah-Jesus, the great Law-Giver Himself—put a face on God's holy Law, being Himself the very essence of God's holiness, incarnate in human flesh. His teachings in the Sermon on the Mount are an exposition of the Law of God, and set forth the great principles and commandments of righteousness for God's people in the Kingdom of God under the New Covenant. If we would see the most impressive manifestation of the holiness of God, and a vindication of His Law (as well as His grace, love, and mercy revealed), we must go to the hill of Mount Calvary. Turning our eyes to the Cross of Christ, we see there what an abominable thing sin really is, how much God really hates it, and how He is determined to punish law-breakers in His holy wrath—because in behalf of His chosen people, the Lord Jesus in substitutionary blood atonement "bore our sins in His own body on the tree" (2 Peter 2:24), fully satisfying the punitive demands of the Law in their behalf (Galatians 3:10-13). As we behold there the Son of God Himself suspended upon that accursed tree, blood flowing down from His many wounds, and hear the words, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" (Matthew 27:46), we see that the cross of Christ is the most awesome monument of the holiness and justice of Almighty God, and the most solemn warning of the lost sinner's danger in the coming Day of Judgment. For if "God spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all" (Romans 8:32), and if for every true believer, "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the Law, being made a curse for us, for it is written, Cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree" (Galatians 3:13)—what then must await the lost sinner who dies and enters eternity without being sheltered under the precious shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ? The cross, the cross of a crucified Saviour, is the most powerful, the most impressive demonstration of sin, righteousness, and judgment, for it truly magnifies and glorifies the holy Law of God (Romans 3:31). No wonder Paul the Apostle wrote, "And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech, or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God, for I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:1-2)! See also Galatians 6:14 and 1 Corinthians 1:18-31). Dear friends, under the powerful influence of the Holy Spirit in conviction, the cross of Christ will melt the hardest heart, and lead the most hardened sinner to repentance, for it also reveals the great love, compassion, and grace of this holy God for poor lost sinners (Revelation 3:17, Luke 15, 2 Corinthians 4:3-4, Romans 5:6-11, 1 John 4:9-11), and how He can be both just and the Justifier of him who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 3:24-26)! The central message of God's Holy Word, then, from Genesis to Revelation, is blood redemption in the crucified, risen, exalted and glorified Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 24:44-49)!

God never calls a man into the ministry to misrepresent Him—therefore let every man who claims to be a minister of God preach this Gospel of blood redemption by substitutionary blood atonement, exalting and glorifying the crucified, risen Lord Jesus Christ, lest he be found at last to be a false teacher, accursed of God, preaching "another gospel," "another Jesus," by "another spirit." (2 Corinthians 11:4,13-15, Galatians 1:6-9).


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