Sovereignty typically means authority or right. Both Calvinists and Arminians agree that God is sovereign in all He does, so He has the authority to do what He does. Period. The End.
But wait!!! In Bavinck’s article on supralapsarian and infralapsarian predestination (link), he states:
In all his “outgoing works” God always has in view his own glory; but that he seeks to establish this glory in this and in no other way is to be ascribed to his sovereignty and to nothing else.
Bavinck uses the term “sovereignty” as either God’s actions or the reason for His actions, not just His authority to act. He is saying “God is doing X”, but rather than explaining why God is doing X, He simply says God has the right to do X and claims God’s right to do X is the explanation. Here are some examples.
- Reprobation cannot be explained as an act of God’s justice, for the first sinful deed at any rate was permitted by God’s sovereignty.
- On the one hand, both election and reprobation presuppose sin, and are deeds of mercy and of justice, Rom. 9:15; Eph. 1:4; on the other hand both are also deeds of divine right and sovereignty, Rom. 9:11, 17, 21.
- Both infra- and supralapsarianism deny the freedom of the will, reject the idea that faith is the cause of election and that sin is the cause of reprobation, and thus oppose Pelagianism; both in the final analysis pay homage to God’s sovereignty.
This is not abnormal Calvinist behavior. For example, popular Calvinist author and preacher John MacArthur claims:
- Paul anticipated the argument against divine sovereignty: “You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?’” (v. 19). In other words, doesn’t God’s sovereignty cancel out human responsibility?
- Scripture affirms both divine sovereignty and human responsibility. We must accept both sides of the truth, though we may not understand how they correspond to one another. People are responsible for what they do with the gospel—or with whatever light they have (Rom. 2:19-20), so that punishment is just if they reject the light. And those who reject do so voluntarily….In John 6, our Lord combined both divine sovereignty and human responsibility when He said, “All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out” (v. 37)… How both of these two realities can be true simultaneously cannot be understood by the human mind—only by God. (link)
In other words, they substitute the right to act in place of an explanation for the act, implicitly denying the act can be explained. Now some Calvinists (like Hodge, Edwards and Turretin) have taken a shot at explaining the act, and it looks a lot like causal predeterminism. But many Calvinists like Bavinck don’t explain things, they just leave it at God is sovereign. This reminds me of a Seinfeld episode where they would “yada, yada, yada” over the best part.