Thursday, December 15, 2005
The monarchy of God
However, this doesn't mean that we understand the significance of the kingdom of God as well as we ought. Often, when we hear of the kingdom, we think of its subjects, the church, but we fail to think of its head: the King of kings. Scripture reveals that God is perfect in all His attributes--love, holiness, goodness, justice, etc.--and this fact implies that God is perfect in every role that He fills, including His awesome position as King over all creation.
One of the many features of Reformed theology that I appreciate the most is its central focus on the sovereignty of God: His full and complete control over all things that come to pass, including in the salvation of His Elect. To be honest, sovereignty is a difficult subject to understand, and in our democratic generation, we often fail to realize that sovereignty goes hand in hand with the kingly role of the one who holds that sovereignty.
So many people in the Western world are so accustomed to representative government that we understandably have little clue of how a true monarchy (as opposed to a constitutional monarchy such as the UK) works. In particular, we don't realize what it's like to have literally no say-so regarding how the affairs of government are carried out. In a true monarchy, the king makes and enforces the laws. Although he may appoint advisers and governors to assist him, they are responsible to submit to the king's every wish and decree. If an adviser happens to give the king advice that pleases the monarch, it remains the king that enacts the law and who determines how it is to be enforced. Should a state be blessed with a good and wise monarch, all is well with the people, but should they be burdened with a cruel despot, all will suffer the consequences, with their only hope of deliverance lying in a better king taking power after the death or overthrow of their tyrant. Of course, the king's subjects remain free moral agents who in their hearts may take strong issue with his rule, but should the king catch wind of their rebellion, the consequences for them may be terrible.
Although there are some parallels that may be drawn between the reign of a human king versus the reign of the King of kings, there are many ways in which the rule of God is unique. For one thing, He is the only King who is altogether good, wise, and just. For another, He is very much aware of every word and thought of His subjects, so He will not allow any evil to go unpunished unless in His mercy He allows that subject to find mercy through His appointed Substitute, Jesus Christ. Also, there is nothing that transpires in His kingdom that fails to fall under His sovereign control. There is no King mightier than the King of all creation!
God's very work of Providence testifies to His sovereign rule. Although we like to fancy that we possess a substantial degree of control over our lives, the fact is that the only control we have is that which God the King allows us to have. A great deal of the issues that define the course of our lives are totally out of our control. Our family, our place of birth, our race, our gender, our degree of wealth or poverty, the availability of education, even whether or not we ever hear the preaching of the Gospel are matters that are outside of our control. I'm sure that all reasonable people will agree that these things are beyond our control, but yet many fancy that there's a great deal of things of which we do enjoy a measure of control.
Judging by what I understand of history, the various doctrines that claim for man a degree of sovereignty over his eternal destiny have been most popular in ages and places where people have become accustomed to a degree of political freedom. For instance, semi-Pelagianism, although formulated many centuries before, began to attain prominence under the name of Arminianism in 17th Century republican Holland, grew in popularity in constitutional monarchist Britain through the preaching of John Wesley, and became nearly omnipresent in 19th and 20th Century America. As true monarchy receded, so did Calvinism, and as republican government spread, so did Arminianism. In other words, as the doctrine of the political freedom of man spread, so did the doctrine of man's spiritual freedom to choose or refuse salvation.
Today, I think one of the significant side effects of the lack of understanding of God's sovereign reign is seen in the efforts in some circles to reinvent the church to better meet the perceived felt needs of man. Were my nation ruled by a sovereign king, he would not be my servant, catering to my felt needs; instead, I would be his subject, responsible to do his bidding and obey his commandments. Likewise, the primary purpose of the church is to honor and glorify God rather than to obtain blessings for itself. Although our gracious God is indeed pleased to bless His people, man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Thus, the work of the church ought to be centered upon how man ought to serve God, not upon how God ought to serve man, for all mankind owes total allegiance to its sovereign Lord.
I in no way wish for a return to the human despots of past times, and I thank God for the many freedoms that I enjoy on account of modern democratic government, but yet I feel that my generation would profit from a greater understanding and appreciation of the monarchy of God. If we were to rightly understand the nature of God's sovereign rule over His creation, it would not seem to be so strange that God is sovereign over even the eternal destiny of His creatures.