Jonathan Edwards: God’s Sovereignty in the Salvation of Men

Romans 9:18 So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.

THE apostle, in the beginning of this chapter, expresses his great concern and sorrow of heart for the nation of the Jews, who were rejected of God. This leads him to observe the difference which God made by election between some of the Jews and others, and between the bulk of that people and the christian Gentiles. In speaking of this he enters into a more minute discussion of the sovereignty of God in electing some to eternal life, and rejecting others, than is found in any other part of the Bible; in the course of which he quotes several passages from the Old Testament, confirming and illustrating this doctrine. In the ninth verse he refers us to what God said to Abraham, showing his election of Isaac before Ishmael – ‘For this is the word of promise; At this time will I come, and Sarah shall have a son:’ then to what God had said to Rebecca, showing his election of Jacob before Esau; ‘The elder shall serve the younger:’ in the thirteenth verse, to a passage from Malachi, ‘Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated:’ in the fifteenth verse, to what God said to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy; and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion:’ and the verse preceding the text, to what God says to Pharaoh, ‘For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might show my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth.’ In what the apostle says in the text, he seems to have respect especially to the two last-cited passages: to what God said to Moses in the fifteenth verse, and to what he said to Pharaoh in the verse immediately preceding. God said to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.’ To this the apostle refers in the former part of the text. And we know how often it is said of Pharaoh, that God hardened his heart. And to this the apostle seems to have respect in the latter part of the text; ‘and whom he will he hardeneth.’ We may observe in the text,

1. God’s different dealing with men. He hath mercy on some, and hardeneth others. When God is here spoken of as hardening some of the children of men, it is not to be understood that God by any positive efficiency hardens any man’s heart. There is no positive act in God, as though he put forth any power to harden the heart. To suppose any such thing would be to make God the immediate author of sin. God is said to harden men in two ways: by withholding the powerful influences of his Spirit, without which their hearts will remain hardened, and grow harder and harder; in this sense he hardens them, as he leaves them to hardness. And again, by ordering those things in his providence which, through the abuse of their corruption, become the occasion of their hardening. Thus God sends his word and ordinances to men which, by their abuse, prove an occasion of their hardening. So the apostle said, that he was unto some ‘a savour of death unto death.’ So God is represented as sending Isaiah on this errand, to make the hearts of the people fat, and to make their ears heavy, and to shut their eyes; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed. Isa. 6:10. Isaiah’s preaching was, in itself, of a contrary tendency, to make them better. But their abuse of it rendered it an occasion of their hardening. As God is here said to harden men, so he is said to put a lying spirit in the mouth of the false prophets. 2 Chron. 18:22. That is, he suffered a lying spirit to enter into them. And thus he is said to have bid Shimei curse David. 2 Sam. 16:10. Not that he properly commanded him; for it is contrary to God’s commands. God expressly forbids cursing the ruler of the people. Exod. 22:28. But he suffered corruption at that time so to work in Shimei, and ordered that occasion of stirring it up, as a manifestation of his displeasure against David.

2. The foundation of his different dealing with mankind; viz. his sovereign will and pleasure. ‘He hath mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.’ This does not imply, merely, that God never shows mercy or denies it against his will, or that he is always willing to do it when he does it. A willing subject or servant, when he obeys his lord’s commands, may never do any thing against his will, nothing but what he can do cheerfully and with delight; and yet he cannot be said to do what he wills in the sense of the text. But the expression implies that it is God’s mere will and sovereign pleasure, which supremely orders this affair. It is the divine will without restraint, or constraint, or obligation.


God exercises his sovereignty in the eternal salvation of men.

He not only is sovereign, and has a sovereign right to dispose and order in that affair; and he not only might proceed in a sovereign way, if he would, and nobody could charge him with exceeding his right; but he actually does so; he exercises the right which he has. In the following discourse, I propose to show,



The sovereignty of God is his absolute, independent right of disposing of all creatures according to his own pleasure. I will consider this definition by the parts of it.

The will of God is called his mere pleasure,

1. In opposition to any constraint. Men may do things voluntarily, and yet there may be a degree of constraint. A man may be said to do a thing voluntarily, that is, he himself does it; and, all things considered, he may choose to do it; yet he may do it out of fear, and the thing in itself considered be irksome to him, and sorely against his inclination. When men do things thus, they cannot be said to do them according to their mere pleasure.

2. In opposition to its being under the will of another. A servant may fulfil his master’s commands, and may do it willingly, and cheerfully, and may delight to do his master’s will; yet when he does so, he does not do it of his own mere pleasure. The saints do the will of God freely. They choose to do it; it is their meat and drink. Yet they do not do it of their mere pleasure and arbitrary will; because their will is under the direction of a superior will.

3. In opposition to any proper obligation. A man may do a thing which he is obliged to do, very freely; but he cannot be said to act from his own mere will and pleasure. He who acts from his own mere pleasure, is at full liberty; but he who is under any proper obligation, is not at liberty, but is bound. Now the sovereignty of God supposes, that he has a right to dispose of all his creatures according to his mere pleasure in the sense explained. And his right is absolute and independent. Men may have a right to dispose of some things according to their pleasure. But their right is not absolute and unlimited. Men may be said to have a right to dispose of their own goods as they please. But their right is not absolute; is has limits and bounds. They have a right to dispose of their own goods as they please, provided they do not do it contrary to the law of the state to which they are subject, or contrary to the law of God. Men’s right to dispose of their things as they will, is not absolute, because it is not independent. They have not an independent right to what they have, but in some things depend on the community to which they belong, for the right they have; and in every thing depend on God. They receive all the right they have to any thing from God. But the sovereignty of God imports that he has an absolute, and unlimited, and independent right of disposing of his creatures as he will. I proposed to inquire, ….

This is an exert out of Jonathan Edward’s Sermon: “God’s Sovereignty in the Salvation of Men”, read more here or buy this great collection for about 2$

The Plan of Salvation by B. B. Warfield, a short summary


The first thing that caught my attention, after Warfield skillfully introduces his reader to “The Differing Conceptions”, in which he briefly explains the meaning of “Naturalistic, Sacredotalistic, Universalistic and Particularistic, was this great sheet, a brilliant summary.

Order of Decrees

Sheet by B. B. Warfield (The Plan of Salvation), added some color, changed the font etc.

After being stunned by this I was then able to continue his study with a helper, this sheet, on the side, (I recommend reading the whole book, to get a full understanding, of what Warfield is saying here) Warfield then dives into the depths of each “sub-point” (Palagian, Remonstrant, Orthodox Greek …) to deliver to us the work of salvation by God alone.

I will just briefly skim through the remaining four chapters:


The Naturalistic view, also called “Autosoterism” or “universal Heathenism”, is in a short form:

“negatively, the denial of the true God, and of the gift of his grace, and positively, the notion that salvation can be secured by man’s own power and wisdom”
(B. B. Warfield, The Plan of Salvation, p.26, ichtuspublications)

and has nothing to do with biblical Christianity but unfortunately it is gaining in popularity, sadly even among evangelicals today.


Sacredotalism, the belief of the Catholic Church, B. B. Warfield states in his book about Sacredotalism:

God in working salvation, does not operate upon the human soul directly but indirectly; that is to say, through instrumentalities which he has established as the means by which his saving grace is communicated to men. As these instrumentalites are committed to human hands for their administration, a human factor is thus intruded between the saving grace of God and its effective operation in the souls of men; and this human factor, indeed, is made the determining factor in salvation.
(B. B. Warfield, The Plan of Salvation, p.48,49, ichtuspublications)


Universalism, sadly, the most widespread belief of evangelicalism today, is the notion that God does not interact with individual persons, but to all men alike, meaning, that either everyone is saved or no one. Obviously most evangelicals won’t admit to either side. Here is where Warfield closely looks at the inconsistent worldview of “Arminianism”.

The great problem requires to be faced by universalizing evangelicalism, therefore, of how it is God and God alone who saves the soul, and all that God does looking towards the saving of the soul he does to and for all men alike, and yet all men are not saved.
(B. B. Warfield, The Plan of Salvation, p.73, ichtuspublications)


Ending at Particularism, the “Augustinian” or “Calvinistic” view is:

The Calvinist is he who holds with full consciousness that God the Lord, in his saving operations, deals not generally with mankind at large, but particularly with the individuals who are actually saved. Thus, and thus only, he contends, can either the supernaturalism of salvation which is the mark of Christianity at large an which ascribes salvation to God, or the immediacy of the operations of saving grace which is the mark of evangelicalism and which ascribes salvation to the direct working of God upon the soul, come to its rights and have justice according to it … The denial of particularism is constructively the denial also of the immediacy of saving grace, that is of evangelicalism, and of the supernaturalism of salvation, that is of Christianity itself. It is logically the total rejection of Christianity.
(B. B. Warfield, The Plan of Salvation, p.86,87, ichtuspublications)


Calvinism, with its doctrines of election and irresistible grace, is the only system which can make credible the salvation of any sinner: since in these doctrines alone are embodied in its purity the evangelical principles that salvation is from God alone and from him only in the immediate working if his grace.
(B. B. Warfield, The Plan of Salvation, p.70,71, ichtuspublications)


This small booklet with about 100 pages is a truly great lecture, on “How God saves a soul”.

Originally delivered as a series of lectures at Princeton Theological Seminary, “The Plan of Salvation” is a masterful articulation of various views of salvation among Christian believers. Warfield, in this own thoughtful way, analyzes and interacts with each viewpoint and arrives at the conclusion that salvation is either from God or from ourselves. This thought-provoking book will be sure to foster a better understanding of God and his role in salvation, convincing you that a renewed heart is truly of the Lord. (Blurb by ichtuspublications, Copyright 2015 – ichtuspublications)

I highly recommend reading this book!

John Murray: Irresistible Grace

by John Murray

In reference to all the aspects from which God’s saving grace may be viewed we must always reckon with the reality and gravity of sin. The salvation God has provided is more than salvation from sin and its consequences. Its design embraces the exceeding riches of God’s grace and contemplates the highest conceivable destiny that could be bestowed upon creatures, conformity to the image of God’s own Son that he might be the firstborn among many brethren (cf. Rom. 8:29). But no such destiny could be envisioned or achieved without salvation from sin in all its ramifications and liabilities. In order to be salvation to it must first of all be salvation from.

We cannot assess the gravity of sin unless we probe to that which is central in its definition. If we say that sin is selfishness we do state something that belongs to the character of sin, especially if we think of self-centeredness and construe this as involving the worship of self rather than of the Creator (cf.Rom. 1:25). The iniquity of sin is thereby disclosed. Again, if we say that sin is the assertion of human autonomy versus the sovereignty of God we are saying something relevant. Sin is precisely that, and it became apparent in Eden when the sin of our race began.

But we must ask: are these analyses sufficient? To put it otherwise: does not Scripture warrant and compel a more penetrating description? When Paul says that “the carnal mind is enmity against God” (Rom. 8:7), he has surely provided us with what is ultimate in the definition of sin. Sin is the contradiction of God, contradiction all along the line of God’s unique and essential glory. Nothing is more germane to God’s glory than his truth; he is truth. The tempter was well aware of this and so his strategy was framed accordingly. To the woman he said: “ye shall not surely die” (Gen. 3:4). This was blatant contradiction of God’s veracity. When the woman acceded to this contradiction her integrity collapsed and to sin she became captive. Our Lord’s indictment of the tempter is to the effect that his own fall from integrity was of the same character as that by which he seduced Eve. “He was a murderer from the beginning and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar and the father of it” (John 8:44).

Yes, the essence of sin is to be against God (cf. Ps. 51:4); it is the contradiction of God in the whole range of its connotation and application. When Paul wrote, “the carnal mind is enmity against God,” he added, “for it is not subject to the law of God” (Rom. 8:7). It is significant that the law of God should be specified in this connection. The enmity manifests itself in insubjection to the law of God. And not only so. The insubjection may be said to constitute the enmity, the contradiction. For the law is the glory of God coming to expression for the regulation of human thought, word, and action consonant with the image in which man has been created. So sin can be defined in terms of law as “lawlessness” (I John 3:4).

The contradiction which sin offers to God and to his will, if it is not adequately described as resistance, involves and is expressed in resistance. Scripture sometimes uses this term or its equivalents to express the attitude of unbelief (cf. Acts 7:51; 13:45; Rom. 10:21; II Tim. 3:8; Tit. 1:9). It is obvious that sin consists in resistance to the will of God. If the claims of God were not resistible, there would be no sin. The claims of God come to expression in the gospel and all rejection of the gospel and of its demands is resistance. In the gospel we have the supreme revelation of the grace of God, and Christ is the embodiment of that grace. The glory of God is nowhere more effulgent than in the face of Jesus Christ. Hence unbelief is resistance of grace at the zenith of its disclosure and overture. So to say that all grace is irresistible is to deny the plain facts of observation and experience as also of Scripture teaching. Stephen was bold enough to indict his unbelieving audience with resistance to the Holy Spirit: “Ye do always resist the Holy Spirit: as your fathers did, so do ye” (Acts 7:51). This is the enormity of unbelief; it is the contradiction of sin expressing itself in resistance to the claims and overtures of supreme love and grace. “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world and men loved the darkness rather than the light” (John 3:19).

When we speak of irresistible grace, therefore, it is not to assert that all grace is irresistible, nor is it to deny the numberless respects in which grace is resisted and resisted to the culmination of resistance in everlasting doom. In fact the truth of and necessity for irresistible grace may be most cogently demonstrated in the premise of resistible grace. The enmity of the human heart is most virulent at the point of the supreme revelation of God’s glory. So deep-seated and persistent is the contradiction that the Saviour as the embodiment of grace is rejected. It is when we recognize this that the need for irresistible grace is perceived.

In much of present-day evangelism it is assumed that the one thing man can do in the exercise of his own liberty is to believe in Christ for salvation. It is supposed that this is the one contribution that man himself must make to set the forces of salvation in operation and that even God himself can do nothing towards this end until there is this crucial decision on man’s own part. In this assessment there is total failure to reckon with human depravity, with the nature of the contradiction that sin involves. Paul tells us that not only is the mind of the flesh not subject to the law of God but also that it cannot be (Rom. 8:7). This impossibility extends to the gospel as well. It is the implication of Paul’s other word that “the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (I Cor. 2:14). But to this truth we have the most pointed and express witness of our Lord himself. “No man can come unto me except the Father who hath sent me draw him” (John 6:44); “no man can come unto me, except it were given to him of the Father” (John 6:65). Here is the witness of him who knows what is in man and who knows the Father as the Father knows him. And it is to the effect that it is a moral and spiritual impossibility for a man to come unto him except by the free gift from the Father in his secret and efficacious drawing.

Continue reading

John MacArthur: Twin Truths, God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Responsibility

Great sermon on God’s sovereignty and the responsibility of us humans. Great illustration and explanation of the Word of God. Putting these two parallel lines into place.

John 3:11-21
11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you[a] do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.[b] 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in himmay have eternal life.[c]

16 “For God so loved the world,[d] that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

Continue reading

R. C. Sproul: Believing the Gospel

Believing Versus Doing

Faith that invests itself wholly and completely in God and His promises alone is the only faith that pleases the Lord. When, in the seventh century BC, Habakkuk could not understand how God could use the evil Babylonians to chastise His people, when it seemed from a human perspective that the Lord’s purposes for Israel had failed and that His faithful servants would not be vindicated, God responded that those He regards as righteous live by faith (Hab. 2:4). That is, those who are righteous in His sight continue trusting Him and do not rely on what they can see from a human perspective or what they can do to vindicate their own righteousness. Dr. R.C. Sproul explains: “Anybody can believe in God. What it means to be a Christian is to trust him when he speaks, which does not require a leap of faith or a crucifixion of the intellect. It requires a crucifixion of pride, because no one is more trustworthy than God” (Romans, p. 35).

Note Dr. Sproul’s key point that God-pleasing faith means crucifying our pride. This is another way of saying, as Paul does in today’s passage, that we give up trying to attain our own righteousness before the Lord. The righteousness of God revealed in the gospel is ours by faith alone, for it is God’s gift to His people, the result of His saving acts that fulfill His promises to redeem His elect (Rom. 1:16–17; 3:21–26; 4:1–5; 5:12–21). To say that the righteous live by faith does not mean only that God’s people believe Him but also that those whom the Lord declares to be righteous trust in Him alone. The essence of such faith is believing God in contrast to doing works of obedience. Galatians 3:10–14 contrasts these ways of establishing our relationship with the Father. No one can be declared righteous before God by obeying His law, for the law demands perfect obedience for our justification—our right standing before Him—and no sinner can obey God perfectly. Hoping even a little in our good works of obedience puts us under the Lord’s curse (vv. 10, 12). Our only hope is to trust Christ alone. In so doing, we are redeemed by His death from God’s curse for breaking His law, and Christ’s righteousness is imputed to our account, making our standing before the Lord all of grace (vv. 11, 13–14).

Attempting to earn our right standing before God is the stance of pride, the arrogant assertion that our sin-tainted good works can meet His perfect standard. It is not the stance of faith, which rests wholly in Christ alone for His righteousness.

Believing Versus Doing, Copyright 2016 by R.C. Sproul, Ligonier Ministries