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The Sovereignty of God by J.K. Popham

Updated: Sep 1, 2023

Introduction by Joe Harper: This extract was taken from the Polemical Writings of J.K. Popham. James Kidwell Popham (1847-1937) was a Pastor and leader amongst the Gospel Standard Baptist Churches. The Gospel Standard Baptists are a group of Strict and Particular Baptist churches that are located mainly in the United Kingdom. J.K. Popham was the Pastor of Galeed Chapel, Brighton from 1882 until his death in 1937. Popham was a staunch defender of the sovereignty of God and the gospel of free grace. His theological views which included the denial of "duty-faith" and the "free-offer" of the gospel led him to be labelled as a Hyper-Calvinist by his critics. J.K. Popham's theology was in succession to other faithful men such as John Gill and J.C. Philpot. The accusation of Hyper-Calvinism is always levelled at those who consistently preach the true gospel of free grace. Popham proved himself to be an able leader amongst the Gospel Standard Baptists throughout his many years of ministry.

Article: In handling so important a subject as divine sovereignty it is needful, at least desirable, to state definitely what is intended by the term. God’s sovereignty is His absolute and inviolable right and power over all creatures. It stands alone; orders, permeates, and fixes all things.

Let us briefly notice the above terms.

1. That God’s sovereignty is absolute and inviolable the Scriptures prove abundantly. It is unlimited, untouched by any influence outside Himself. “Is it not lawful for Me to do what I will with Mine own?” (Matt. 20. 15.) “Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?” (John 21. 22.) “He doeth according to His will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay His hand, or say unto Him, What doest Thou?” (Dan. 4. 35.) “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for Thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are and were created” (Rev. 4. 2). “Whatsoever the Lord pleased, that did He in heaven, and in earth, in the seas, and all deep places” (Psa. 135. 6). See also 1 Cor. 8. 6; and Isa. 40. 14-17. To possess such a right and power is a part of what it is to be God. Touch divine, absolute sovereignty and you injure eternal Deity.

2. In His awful sovereignty Jehovah is alone. “To whom then will ye liken Me, or shall I be equal? saith the Holy One” (Isa. 40. 25). He will not give His glory to another, nor His praise to graven images (Isa. 42. 8). Solemnly and with all-silencing majesty He asks, “Is there a God beside Me? Yea, there is no God; I know not any” (Isa. 44. 8). “With whom took He counsel?” (Isa. 40. 14.) He “worketh all things after the counsel of His own will” (Eph. 1. 11). He alone is the “I AM THAT I AM” (Exod. 3. 14). Deity is not communicable. Eternity, infinitude, omnipotence, omniscience, justice, goodness, are God’s alone, and so He is alone in His sovereignty. “Who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords” (1 Tim. 6. 15).

3. Divine sovereignty orders and permeates all things. It stands infinitely above all things. “With whom took He counsel?” It determined creation, but it can never become part of it. It has been said that divine sovereignty merges into man’s responsibility in some way. Whereas the truth is that the latter is determined by the former, which stands infinitely above it and alone. God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility are two different subjects, dwelling in beings infinitely separated. The one, the “blessed and only Potentate,” the “great and dreadful God”; the other, poor, finite man. Sovereignty is an essential attribute in God; responsibility in man grows out of an obligation imposed on him by God. If, now, one should be found who thinks these two may merge into one, it may be permitted me to remind him of the Lord’s silencing address to Job in his perplexing trials: “Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare, if thou hast understanding. Hast thou commanded the morning since thy days and caused the dayspring to know his place?” (Job 38. 4-12.) In that chapter and the three following, there is a view given to Job of God’s infinite sovereignty, right, and power, which brought him trembling into the dust before the divine Majesty; and if the Holy Ghost should deal with the objector’s conscience by the Word of truth, there can be no doubt that he will humbly use as his own Job’s language in reply: “I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth Thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42. 5, 6).

This glorious sovereignty permeates all things. Nothing is without it. The limit of divine working is that which sovereignty has ordered. The Lord works all things after the counsel of His own will. His own works and the works of men are subject to His will. “Thou couldest have no power at all against Me, except it were given thee from above” (John 19. 11). The wheels and rings of this sovereignty are “so high that they are dreadful.” “Whithersoever the Spirit was to go” as a determining influence and power over all things, “they went;… for the Spirit of the living creature was in the wheels” (Ezek. 1. 18, 20). “Shall there be evil in a city and the Lord hath not done it?” (Amos 3. 6.) Without the sovereign Ruler of heaven and earth a lying spirit cannot go forth and deceive Ahab, a man so devoted to destruction (1 Kings 22. 19-23); nor a legion of devils “enter into” a herd of swine (Mark 5. 12). If I am asked on what ground this dealing, this permission of sin and evil can be right, can be reconciled with divine goodness, I answer on the ground that God did it, Who will not do iniquity; and the Scriptures abundantly prove that He permits sin and evil for His glory. Introduce fallen, corrupted reason into the solemn business and you at once introduce confusion. May I, may all the Lord’s people be enabled to slay the beast Reason, as Luther speaks, humbly believing that He who has made all things for Himself, yea, even the wicked for the day of evil, cannot be other than infinite holiness, justice, and goodness. Blessed with grace and its triumph over his reason and natural judgment, Job looked beyond the Sabeans and the Chaldeans, the consuming fire and the roaring wind, each of which wrought destruction and brought desolation, and viewed God and said, “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither. The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the Name of the Lord” (Job 1. 21). Who, possessing faith, can look on the revolutions, changes, and seeming inequalities in providence, and not acknowledge the hand of the divine, sovereign Ruler? It is His hand that holds the cup which is full of mixture. It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps. Saul seeks his father’s asses, but he is all the while moving towards Samuel, who is to anoint him king. Ruth’s hap, as she gleaned in the field after the reapers, was to light on a part of the field belonging to Boaz, of her father-in-law’s kindred; but who guided her steps? “A man’s heart deviseth his way, but the Lord directeth his steps.” “The lot is cast into the lap, but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord.” He exercises His saints by His sovereignty in holy, wise, strange providences; shows them how foolish, weak, and dependent they are; teaches them to call on Him for everything; and causes them to find many a mercy in as unlikely a place as the fish’s mouth was to find the tribute money for Himself and Peter. And what a sweet and humbling wonder it has been to some of us to find ourselves linked to the Lord in certain providences.

4. The Lord God has fixed all things in His inviolable sovereignty. Though to our limited view in respect of the issues of things, “Time and chance happen to them all,” and though competing, contending men can see no further, yet, in respect of God’s foreknowledge and determinate counsel, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven” (Eccles. 9. 11; 3. 1). Except that God had sovereignly fixed it, we can discover no reason why the Egyptians should afflict Abraham’s seed 400 years (Gen. 15. 13). The greatest, the most eventful birth—the only vicarious one—the world has seen, was fixed in respect of time and in all things relating thereto. “When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law” (Gal. 4. 4).

Never can redeemed sinners, worms of earth, whose everlasting happiness has been fixed, whose birth, position, steps, dangers, and deliverances have been ordered by sovereignty in love, praise the Lord enough for this high and glorious attribute. To all living in rebellion against God divine sovereignty can but be abhorrent; but it is none the less true. For whether we will or not, “The Lord God omnipotent reigneth.” I have thus briefly gone through the terms laid down at the beginning of my paper, proving them, I trust, by the Scriptures. Happy are all who can, in a gracious, believing heart, receive this doctrine of divine, immutable, glorious sovereignty, and say in adoring love to the Lord, “Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven. ... For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory for ever. Amen” (Matt. 6. 10, 13)

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