Psalm 97.1


1.   Please turn in your Bible to Psalm 97.1 and stand, and read along with me silently while I read aloud:  “The LORD reigneth; let the earth rejoice; let the multitude of isles be glad thereof.”

2.   The simple truth contained in these words is that it is a matter of rejoicing that God governs the universe.  I will not spend time, this morning, dealing with the implications of the government of God, what it means for God to be sovereign, to be in charge.

3.   Let me only state that God exercises absolute control over both the natural and the moral world, that He “worketh all things after the counsel of his own will,” and that no event great or small ever takes place which is not included in His eternal purpose, and which is not made to serve His ultimate designs.

4.   My purpose this morning is to show you that it is a matter of rejoicing that the Lord does reign in the manner I have stated.  I will show this to you in two ways.



1B.    I am perfectly aware that it is not a matter of rejoicing among wicked men that God reigns.  As a matter of absolute fact, there is no doctrine to which the natural man’s wicked heart is more bitterly opposed than that of the absolute sovereignty of God.

2B.    Those wicked men who have not shut God altogether out of the picture, which is to say unsaved men who are not yet so foolish as to be atheists, are willing that God should govern the natural world, that He should regulate the motions of the planets, that He should control the changes that come with the daytime and the nighttime, that He should preside over winter and spring and summer and fall, over seed time and harvest, and that He should perform His pleasure in the animal, vegetable, and mineral kingdoms.

3B.    The enemies of God do not object to the doctrine of God’s decrees, to the exercise of God’s sovereignty, so far as it relates to the natural world alone.  But when we speak of the government of God over the moral world, the operation of God in men’s hearts, the enmity of their hearts is aroused.  “What!  Are you saying that God rules over free moral agents?”

4B.    Every objection which I have ever heard against the doctrine of decrees, or to put it more plainly the doctrine of election, may be reduced to this one:  “If God operates on the hearts of men and determines their actions, how can they then be free?”  That’s the question every opponent asks.  Though the objection is stated in different ways by different people, yet the whole difficulty is resolved by distilling it down to this essence.

5B.    But I have learned by long experience that the right answers seldom turn up unless the right questions are first asked.  So, let me pose some questions.  Obviously, those who accede to the Biblical doctrine of election without doubt acknowledge that God rules in the hearts of men.  But are we who believe in election the only ones confronted with the issue of God ruling in men’s hearts?  I don’t think so. 

6B.    That being so, let’s drop the doctrine of decrees for a moment, let’s set aside the doctrine of election for a bit, and look in another direction.



1B.    Does God operate on the hearts of men or does He not?  Now, in order to be consistent, if you believe that God does not operate on the hearts of men then you should never pray that He would operate on people’s hearts.  For example:  If you have an unsaved child and you believe that God does not operate on the hearts of human beings, then you should never pray that God would operate on the heart of your child.  Isn’t that consistent?  Sure it is.

2B.    Perhaps you should not consider someone else, but consider only yourself.  No person can pray for himself without admitting that God can operate on his heart, and yet he is still free. 

1C.   “Turn thou me, and I shall be turned,” Jeremiah 31.18. 

2C.   “Turn us O God of our salvation,” Psalm 85.4. 

3C.   “Draw me, we will run after thee,” Song of Solomon 1.4. 

4C.   “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me,” Psalm 51.10. 

5C.   Notice that each of these prayers are found in the Bible. 

3B.    But no one should pray such prayers as these if God could not answer their prayers without destroying their free agency.  Amen?  Should we pray that God would destroy our freedom?  Should we pray that God would make us like machines, without free will?

4B.    Now, obviously, no one would advocate such an idea.  But if it be true that God destroys man’s freedom by working on men’s hearts, how can we pray that God would work in us that which is well pleasing in His sight if, as the objection supposes, He cannot operate on our hearts without destroying our freedom of will?

5B.    I would ask the person who objects to the doctrine of election, who thinks it is wrong for God to operate on men’s hearts, “How can you pray for yourself consistently with such a view?  Do you think it’s right to pray for God to do what you believe God has no power to do?”

6B.    You see, you just can’t pray for other people without admitting that God can operate on their hearts, and yet they are still free.

7B.    It is a doctrine clearly taught in the Bible that a change of heart is absolutely necessary to prepare sinners for heaven.  “Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  We are also taught that God is the Author of this needed change.  “Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God,” John 1.13 reads.

8B.    But if God cannot operate on the hearts of men without destroying their free will, as those who are opposed to the doctrine of election maintain, then we ought not to pray that God would renew the hearts of sinners.  Surely, we ought not to pray that God would convert men, if it meant turning them into machines.

9B.    However wicked a man may be, we cannot pray that God would stop him in his career of sin, because God cannot do it without destroying the man’s free will, if those who disagree with me are correct.  When sinners have proud, stubborn and rebellious hearts, we cannot pray that God would make them humble, submissive and obedient; because God cannot do that without converting them into machines, if those who disagree with me are correct.

10B.  When sinners are invited to Christ, they all with one consent begin to make excuses for not getting saved.  But Christ declared, in John 5.40, “ye will not come to me that ye might have life.”  So, sinners are in an awful condition.  They will not come to Christ, and God cannot make them willing without destroying their freedom, if those who disagree with me are correct.

11B.  What shall be done?  It will be of no use to pray for them, if those who disagree with me are correct.  Nor is it proper to pray for them, because surely we should not pray that God would do what He is unable to do.  Amen?  If those who agree with me are correct.



1.   So you see, we’ve dropped the doctrine of decrees and set aside this thing called election, and we are still faced with the same difficulty.

2.   The grand objection which is argued against the decrees of God, that such a thing as election robs man of his free will, lies with equal force against our duty and privilege of prayer.

3.   If it be true that those who hold the doctrine of decrees, those who believe that election is a Biblical doctrine, makes men mere machines and deprives men of their free will, then it is equally true of those who pray. 

4.   “Therefore, thou art inexcusable O man, whosoever thou art that judgest; for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest, dost the same things,” Romans 2.1.

5.   You see, those who pray for God to work in people’s lives seem to be guilty of the same thing they accuse those who believe in election, that human free will is taken away.

6.   Now, whether we can see how God operates upon the hearts of free moral agents or not, it makes no difference.  We actually know very little of the actual details of the workings of God in such areas in people’s lives. 

7.   The important question here is, Does God govern all His creatures and all their actions?  Does God govern the actions of wicked men and demons?

8.   Some day “No, God cannot do such things without destroying their freedom.”  “No,” says another.  “God cannot do such a thing without becoming the Author of sin.”

9.   But let’s stay on track, this morning.  My goal is not to prove the doctrine that God does reign over all His creatures, but to show that it is a desirable thing for God to rule over all His creatures, that it would be great if He did.

10. As well, my goal is to prove that if God can and does reign in this manner, it’s a matter of rejoicing.  And that if He does not reign in this manner, it’s a matter of mourning and lamentation.

11. If indeed God cannot govern human beings without destroying their freedom or becoming the Author of sin, and if He must resign His dominion over them or let them alone, then the universe is truly in a sad condition.

12. Let us for a moment think about the condition we find ourselves in.  Look around and see how the wickedness of men prevails.  Murder, abortion, fornication, pagan tattoos and body piercings, Internet pornography, a student at Monrovia High School committed suicide last week by hanging himself, you name it.  The devil wanders about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.  So, what can be done? 

13. God cannot govern these wicked people, it is said, without becoming the Author of sin, if those who disagree with us are correct. 

14. So-called “Christianity” is in truly wretched shape.  Southern California evangelical and Charismatic and Pentecostal, and even fundamental Baptist, Christianity has a form of godliness, but denies the power thereof in the individual life. 

15. What will become of so-called Christians we do not know, since the devil is obviously having his way with just about everyone.  He is doing all he can to destroy the cause of Christ on earth.  He will also do all he can to destroy heaven itself.  What’s to be done? 

16. Those who say it violates man’s free will for God to reign have us living under a government of God which can afford us no protection.  Wicked men and demons are turned loose on us, if those who disagree with us are correct, because it would be wrong for God to destroy man’s free will by operating in men’s hearts.

17. The enemies of God and His children are fast turning the spiritual tide, yet nothing can be done.  And the evil work of desolation must apparently go on through eternity, because some feel that God cannot control the actions of His creatures without destroying their freedom, or becoming the Author of sin.

18. So, you see the condition we are in.  It’s gloomy and awful beyond description.  And we ask, must God forever look with regret and grief upon His creation, because He can’t do anything to stop the destruction carried on by His rebellious creatures, for fear of violating their free wills?

18. That wicked men and demons very much need someone to govern them, someone who can control them, you must I think be convinced.  Since you agree that someone needs to govern wicked men and demons, why then do you object to the absolute supremacy of God?  Is not God qualified to rule and reign over the wicked?

19. He is infinitely wise.  He knows perfectly what is for the best.  There can be no objection to His government on this ground.

20. He is infinitely good.  He is disposed to do everything in the best possible manner.  In this respect He is qualified to reign.

21. The only question relates to His power.  But His power is as infinite as His wisdom and His goodness.  All things are possible with God.  All His creatures are the workmanship of His hands, and has He made creatures He cannot govern?

22. Oh, no, friends, my God reigns.  “He doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth, and none can stay his hand, or say unto him what doest thou?”  Yes, my God reigns.

23. Listen to this poem before my closing remarks to you who are not saved.

Rejoice, the Lord is king;

Your God and king adore,

Mortals give thanks and sing,

And triumph ever more.

Lift up the heart,

Lift up the voice,

Rejoice aloud

Ye saints, rejoice.

24. But you who rebel against your parents, and you parents who rebel against God, and you who live independently from the will God, listen to these words:  Psalm 2

25. Consider again your standing before God.  Ponder again the claims of Jesus Christ.  Wonder yet another time why the Spirit of God does not churn your stomach and stir your conscience.  It’s not because God cannot operate in the hearts of men.  Oh, no.  It’s not because He cannot.  For, you see, we have seen that it’s a matter of rejoicing that He does.

[1] Adapted from a sermon by Asahel Nettleton

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