One of the attacks often aimed toward Arminian theology is that Arminians do not believe in the sovereignty of God. It is argued by Calvinists that their theology embraces the absolute sovereignty of God in all things (Ephesians 1:11) while Arminianism denies God’s sovereignty and exalts man. In some ways, Calvinists viewed their theology as God exalting while viewing Arminianism as man exalting. Most Calvinist blogs will actually label their theology as “the theology of grace” since Calvinism exalts God to his rightful place of worship and adoration.
However, this attack is simply untrue and biased. Arminians do not deny the sovereignty of God. In fact, Arminius wrote, “I consider Divine Providence to be that solicitous, continued, and universally present inspection and oversight of God, according to which he exercises a general care over the whole world, but evinces a particular concern for all his [intelligent] creatures without any exception, with the design of preserving and governing them in their own essence, qualities, actions, and passions, in a manner that is at once worthy of himself and suitable to them, to the praise of his name and the salvation of believers. In this definition of Divine Providence, I by no means deprive it of any particle of those properties which agree with it or belong to it; but I declare that it preserves, regulates, governs and directs all things and that nothing in the world happens fortuitously or by chance.”
John Wesley, commenting on Luke 12:7, said, “And as this all-wise, all-gracious Being created all things, so he sustains all things. He is the Preserver as well as the Creator of everything that exists. ‘He up holdeth all things by the word of his power;’ that is, by his powerful word. Now it must be that he knows everything he has made, and everything he preserves, from moment to moment; otherwise, he could not preserve it, he could not continue to it the going which he has given it. And it is nothing strange that he who is omnipresent, who ‘filleth heaven and earth,’ who is intimately present. If the eye of man discerns things at a small distance; the eye of an eagle, what is at a greater; the eye of an angle, what is at a thousand times greater distance; (perhaps taking in the surface of the earth at one view;) how shall not the eye of God see everything, through the whole extent of creation? Especially considering, that nothing is distant from him in whom we all ‘live, and move, and have our being.’”
The Scriptures themselves clearly teach the sovereignty of God. Consider the following verses from among many. All from the English Standard Version.
Psalm 50:1 “The Mighty One, God the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting.”
Psalm 115:3 “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.”
Isaiah 40:22-23 “It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in; who brings princes to nothing, and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.”
1 Timothy 6:15-16 “Which he will display at the proper time – he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.”
The Sovereignty of God In Salvation
The key difference then, according to Calvinist, would be in regard to salvation. The Calvinist would argue that Arminians do not believe in the sovereignty of God in regard to salvation. Again, this is simply not true. Arminians have always stood firm on the biblical truth that God is sovereign not only in his creation but in salvation as well. James Arminius stood quite firm with Martin Luther in that man could not save himself but must be saved by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ. Arminius believed in the doctrine of total depravity. John Wesley, Richard Watson, H. Orton Wiley, and other later Arminian theologians believed the Scriptures taught the depravity of man. While there are acknowledged differences among Arminian theologians as to the extent of the Fall, all true Arminians stand with the Reformed position in teaching total depravity.
The key difference between Arminians and Calvinists over the doctrine of salvation and the sovereignty of God would be whether God has decreed that only some will be saved and others to eternal damnation (predestination). It is the Arminian understanding that God, by his own sovereign choice, has given all of us common grace (or prevenient grace) and that man is saved by the grace of God as the Spirit of God convicts us of sin. Arminians do not believe that man co-operates with God to be saved but that man must surrenders to the grace of God to be saved (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7). Salvation then, from beginning to end, is by the grace of God through faith in Christ (Romans 1:16-17; 3:22-27; 4:24-5:11). As Jonah cried, “Salvation belongs to the Lord” (Jonah 2:9 ESV). Being baptized into Christ is by the grace of God (Romans 6:1-4; Galatians 3:25-27) and not by the choice of man.
In conclusion, the sovereignty of God should never be a doctrine that Arminians fail to uphold and teach. We should rejoice that God is in complete control of all things. Further, this should greatly effect our prayer lives as we read in Matthew 6:8 that our “Father knows what you have need before you ask him” (ESV) and the words of Christ, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7 ESV). Even more of an encouragement is to know that when I die and stand before the judgment seat of Christ I will not be able to declare that I saved myself by my own choice or my own good works but I will only be able to declare “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (Revelation 4:11 ESV).
[This post was taken from Roy Ingle’s blog, Arminian Today.]