THE PSALMS AND GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY
Rev. Steven R. Houck
God’s Sovereign Grace
Salvation is the work of GOD’S GRACE ALONE. It is the work of God’s SOVEREIGN grace. The psalmists knew of no grace that must be EARNED BY MAN OR ACCEPTED BY THE WILL OF MAN. Salvation is not CONDITIONED by what man does, but is based totally upon the faithfulness of the Covenant God. God’s people are saved only because God has established His covenant with them and promised to save them. Thus God’s people rejoice and sing, “I will sing of the mercies of the Lord for ever: with my mouth will I make known thy faithfulness to all generations. For I have said, Mercy shall be built up for ever: thy faithfulness shalt thou establish in the very heavens. I have made a covenant with my chosen, I have sworn unto David my servant.” (Ps. 89:1-3).
The covenant faithfulness of God will never fail. Even when God’s people violate the covenant, God remains faithful. He saves them in spite of their unfaithfulness, through the promised Seed. He promises, “My mercy will I keep for him for evermore, and my covenant shall stand fast with him. His seed also will 1 make to endure forever, and his throne as the days of heaven. If his children forsake my law, and walk not in my judgments; if they break my statutes, and keep not my commandments; Then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes. Nevertheless my loving kindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail. My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips.” (Ps. 59:28-34).
It is the SOVEREIGN SAVIOR, therefore, Who regenerates, converts, justifies, sanctifies, preserves, and glorifies His people. This was King David’s conviction as demonstrated by Psalm 51. Unto Whom does David turn in the midst of his great sins? Does he find comfort in the fact that HE did something for salvation? NO! He prays, “Have mercy upon me, O God. according to THY lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of THY tender mercies blot out my transgressions.” (Ps. 51:1). He pleads for God’s mercy. He does not look to himself for he acknowledges, “I was shapen in iniquity. and in sin did my mother conceive me,” (Ps. 51:5). He is a sinner. How CAN he save himself? Thus he seeks his salvation in sovereign grace.
God must “create” in him “a clean heart” and “renew a right spirit” in him. Only God can “restore” to him “the joy of salvation” and “uphold” him with His Spirit. If he is to be clean, God must “purge” him with hyssop and “wash” him so that he is whiter than snow. He knows that His salvation is God’s work alone and therefore he declares, “O God, thou God of my salvation.”(Ps, 51:14). We find this throughout the Psalms. In the midst of sin, the psalmists rely on God’s sovereign grace. For all of the life of the believer is directed and controlled by God and His grace until He finally gives to him complete salvation, Thus all believers can say, “Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.” (Ps. 73:24).
Moreover the Psalms teach us that salvation is not dependent upon man’s choice, but upon the sovereign choice of God. The determining factor in salvation is God’s will. The psalmists speak of God’s election in many places. “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord; and the people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance.” (Ps. 33:12). In God’s eternal and unchangeable counsel, He has chosen certain ones to be His people whom He saves. “For thou Lord hath chosen Jacob unto himself, and Israel for his peculiar treasure.” (Ps. 135:4). He does not save all. God never intended to save everyone.
HE SAVES ONLY THOSE WHOM HE HAS CHOSEN.
GOD HAS BUT ONE PEOPLE FOR HIS “PECULIAR TREASURE.”
ALL OTHERS KNOW NOTHING OF HIS SALVATION.
It is upon His chosen people alone that He bestows His mercy, grace, and love. He has only wrath for the wicked. Thus the psalmist speaks of reprobation when he says of God, “Thou hatest all workers of iniquity.” (Ps. 5:5). “The Lord trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loves violence his soul hateth.” (Ps. 11:5). God’s sovereign predestination was manifested throughout the old dispensation by the fact that God gave His Word to only His people. “He sheweth his word UNTO JACOB, HIS STATUTES AND HIS JUDGMENTS UNTO ISRAEL.
HE HATH NOT DEALT SO WITH ANY NATION: AS FOR HIS JUDGMENTS, THEY HAVE NOT KNOWN THEM.
Praise ye the Lord.” (Ps. 147:19-20).
GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY OVER THE WICKED
Closely connected with God’s sovereignty in salvation is God’s sovereignty over the wicked. God always saves His people through the judgment of the wicked. God’s people need to be saved from their enemies. In many places the psalmists even pray for the destruction of their enemies. In Ps. 68 we read, “Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered: let them also that hate him flee before him. As smoke is driven away, so drive them away: as wax melteth before the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God.” (Ps. 68:1-2). Sometimes very strong language is used. “Break their teeth, O God, in their mouth: break out the great teeth of the young lions, O Lord.” (Ps. 58:6).
The BASIS for such prayers can only be the sovereignty of God. The almighty power of God controls even the wicked for the sake of God’s people and their salvation. “He [God] suffered no man to do them [God’s people) wrong: yea. He reproved kings for their sakes: Saying, touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm.” (Ps. 105:14-15). Though the wicked seek to destroy God’s people and the cause of Truth, God holds them in His power and will not allow them to do anything which He has not appointed. “The Lord bringeth the counsel of the heathen to naught: he maketh the devices of the people of none effect.” (Ps. 33:10). Though the “heathen rage… and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his anointed,…He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision” (Ps. 2:1-4). God uses all the wicked deeds of the ungodly to advance the cause of His kingdom. Even their rebellion serves the Lord.
Yea, for the sake of His people, the Lord destroys the wicked. This is nowhere more evident than in the destruction of Egypt. The psalmist praises God for the destruction of the enemies of God’s people when he declares, “Who smote the first-born of Egypt, both of man and beast, Who sent tokens and wonders into the midst of thee, O Egypt, upon Pharaoh, and upon all his servants.” (Ps. 135:8-9). Not only Egypt, but also other heathen nations were destroyed for the sake of God’s people. “Who smote great nations, and slew mighty kings; Sihon king of the Amorites, and Og king of Bashan, and all the kingdoms of Canaan: And gave their land for an heritage, an heritage unto Israel His people” (Ps. 135: 10-12). Thus God’s people are saved through the destruction of the wicked by the sovereign power of God. With the psalmist therefore all of God’s people must praise God and say, “Through God we shall do valiantly: for he it is that shall tread down our enemies.” (Ps. 108:13). Because God is sovereign even over the wicked, the salvation of God’s people is absolutely sure. Praise the Lord. He is the sovereign Savior.
The Comfort of God’s Sovereignty
From all that we have shown thus far, it ought to be clear that the various themes of the sovereignty of God run throughout the Psalms like golden treads. They are everywhere. If you were to pull out these threads by cutting out the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, you would unravel the entire Psalter. FOR THERE IS NOT ONE PSALM THAT DOES NOT REFER TO THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD IN ONE WAY OR ANOTHER. It is impossible to find a single Psalm which IGNORES this doctrine.
The wonder of the book of Psalms, however, is that the great majority of the Psalms do not simply mention the sovereignty of God: THEY EMPHASIZE IT! A careful study of the Psalms indicates that ninety percent of them devote at least fifty percent of their content to this doctrine. Think of that! One half of the content of one hundred and thirty six (136) Psalms deal with the themes of God’s sovereignty. Moreover, one third of the Psalms are entirely devoted to these themes. This is amazing! It demonstrates conclusively that the sovereignty of God is the central theme of the book of Psalms. This book EMPHATICALLY exalts God as the sovereign God. Therefore, if the Christian is to be faithful to the Lord Who inspired these Psalms, He must not only believe, hut he must also emphasize God’s sovereignty.
This fact can be further demonstrated by the manner in which the psalmists deal with this doctrine. They do not treat the doctrine of God’s sovereignty in a cold, abstract manner. The beauty of this book of praise is that God’s sovereignty is indeed the HEART and SOUL of the Psalms. The psalmists love this doctrine. It is precious to them. They find great comfort in the fact that their God controls and works all things for their salvation. They have nothing to fear.
Even in the midst of tribulation, the psalmists have peace and contentment. This is the experience of all those who trust the sovereign God. They can say, “The Lord is my light and my salvation: whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life: of whom shall I be afraid?” (PS. 27:1). God’s people have nothing to fear because the sovereign God is their Savior; He holds the very life of His people in His hands, and no one can touch that life apart from His appointment. For God’s sovereign control extends to all of creation. There are no creatures which can take God’s people away from their God. Thus Christians sing together, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea: though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof.” (Ps. 46:1-3).
The doctrine of God’s sovereignty, therefore, gives to the believer a wonderful joy. He is happy because he knows that he is safe in the everlasting arms of God. King David spoke of that joy when he exclaimed, “The King shall joy in thy strength, O Lord; and in thy salvation how greatly shall he rejoice.” (Ps. 21:1). The great strength of the Lord is the very basis of the Christian’s joy. What joy could the children of God have if God was some impotent, weak god who had no sovereign power to save them? None whatsoever! The Christian rejoices because God is not only WILLING, but also ABLE to save them. Thus the psalmist prays, “But let all those that put their trust in Thee rejoice: let them ever shout for joy, because Thou defendest them: let them also that love Thy name be joyful in Thee.” (Ps. 5:11).
The Praise of God’s Sovereignty
This joy which the believer experiences naturally produces a gratitude that praises God for his greatness. Thus we find praise throughout the Psalms. In fact, the books of Psalms is a book of praise precisely because its theme is that of God’s sovereignty. It is the sovereignty of God that is praised. Because God saves His people and delivers them from their enemies by His sovereign power, believers sing of his greatness.
THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD AND PRAISE ARE INSEPARABLE!
The psalmist says, “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; and his greatness is unsearchable.” (Ps. 145:3). Because the Lord is great, He is greatly to be praised. God’s people are exhorted, “O clap your hands, all ye people; shout unto God with the voice of triumph.” (Ps.47:1). What could be the reason for such shouts of praise? The answer– “For the Lord most high is terrible: he is a great King over all the earth… God reigneth over the heathen: God sitteth upon the throne of his holiness.” (Ps. 47:2.7). Someone who does not believe in the sovereignty of God has no basis whatsoever for praising God.
God reveals Himself and His greatness to His people by means of His works. Throughout the Psalms, therefore, the psalmists praise God for these wondrous works. Because God’s sovereignty is exhibited in His works, the psalmist says, “I will praise thee: for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.” (Ps. 139:14). Here the sovereign act of creation is praised. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. The psalmists, however, praise God for all of His mighty acts. In fact, believers from one generation to another are to continually praise God for His sovereign works. “One generation shall praise thy works to another, and shall declare thy mighty acts. I will speak of the glorious honor of thy majesty, and of thy wondrous works. And men shall speak of the might of thy terrible acts: and I will declare thy greatness.” (Ps. 145:4-6).
What is true of God’s works in general is especially true of His work of salvation. The believer praises God for all of His works as they relate to his own salvation. He praises Him because He sovereignly works all things for their salvation. Thus the Church sings, “O sing unto the Lord a new song; for He hath done marvelous things: his right hand, and his holy arm, hath gotten him the victory. The Lord hath made known his salvation….He hath remembered his mercy and his truth toward the house of Israel: all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.” (Ps. 98:1-3). God’s people praise Him because they recognize that their salvation is the result of the mighty right hand and holy arm of the Lord. Salvation is the result of the marvelous things God has done. Moreover, the believer knows that His salvation goes back to the eternal election of God. Therefore, he praises God for His sovereign will which has chosen him to salvation. “Praise the Lord; for the Lord is good: sing praises unto his name: for it is pleasant.
FOR THE LORD HATH CHOSEN JACOB UNTO HIMSELF, AND ISRAEL FOR HIS PECULIAR TREASURE. (Ps. 135:3-4).
The Proclamation of God’s Sovereignty
The doctrine of God’s sovereignty is such a wonderful Truth that the saint cannot keep it to himself. He bursts forth in praise to God, but he also speaks of God’s sovereignty to others. He proclaims the sovereignty of God. The psalmist declares, “O give thanks unto the Lord; call upon his name: make known his deeds among the people. Sing unto him, sing psalms unto him: talk ye of all His wondrous works.” (Ps. 105:1-2). God’s people make known God’s great deeds and His wondrous works. They talk of them one to another. In fact, Christian parents must take care that they tell their children of the sovereign works of God. They must be very faithful in that so that their children can say, “We have heard with our ears. O God, our fathers have told us, what work thou didst in their days, in the tine of old. How thou didst drive out the heathen with thy hand, and plantedst them: how thou didst afflict the people, and cast them out. For they got not the land, in possession by their own sword, neither did their own arm save them: but thy right hand, and thine arm, and the light of thy countenance, because thou hast a favor unto them. Thou art my King, O God: command deliverances for Jacob.” (Ps. 44:1-4).
This Truth is not something that the Church “believes” but does not promote and proclaim. True Christians do not hide it. They are not afraid of the doctrine of God’s sovereignty. Thus God’s people are to declare God’s sovereignty even to the heathen. The people of God are admonished, “Declare his glory among the heathen, his wonders among all people. For the Lord is great, and greatly to be praised: ho is to be feared above all gods… Say among the heathen that the Lord reigneth: the world also shall be established that it shall not be moved….” (Ps. 96:3,4,10). The Christian is to declare God’s glorious wonders even to the unbeliever. The message that is proclaimed to the unconverted is the message of God’s sovereignty. The unbeliever must not think that salvation is dependent upon his will. He must be told that “the Lord reigneth” in all the world and especially in salvation. In fact, God’s people must make this proclamation a part of their daily life. They must continually show forth God’s wonders. For the psalmist says, “Sing unto the Lord, bless his name; shew forth his salvation from day to day.” (Ps. 96:2). God’s sovereignty is such a central part of the Christian’s experience that it must be remembered and talked about on a regular basis.
Surely anyone who bows before the authority of God’s Word will recognize that the Christian must not only believe the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, but he must also emphasize it. It is the heart and soul of the Psalms and therefore must be the heart and soul of the believer’s faith. The person who emphasizes this glorious Truth is NOT one-sided. Rather those who do not emphasize this doctrine are guilty of distorting the Truth of the gospel. The doctrine of God’s sovereignty can be found on every page of the Psalms. Yea, on every page of Holy Scripture. It is the believer’s comfort and joy, the basis for his thanksgiving and praise of God. and it is the Truth that must be proclaimed in the church and in the world. Indeed, “THE LORD HE IS GOD…” (Ps. 100:3).
Let that be the heart of your faith so that you can say with the psalmist who closes the entire book of Psalms with the words, “Praise ye the Lord. Praise God in his sanctuary: praise him in the firmament of HIS POWER. Praise him for HIS MIGHTY ACTS: praise him according to His EXCELLENT GREATNESS… Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord. PRAISE YE THE LORD.” (Ps. 150:1,2,6).
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