God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Will

A. W. Tozer offers a helpful illustration as well as an appeal while discussing the age-old debate concerning God’s sovereignty and man’s will in his classic The Knowledge of the Holy*:

An Illustration

An ocean liner leaves New York bound for Liverpool.  Its destination has been determined by proper authorities  Nothing can change it.  This is at least a faint picture of sovereignty.

On board the liner are several scores of passengers.  These are not in chains, neither are their activities determined for them by decree.  They are completely free to move about as they will.  They eat, sleep, play, lounge about on the deck, read, talk, altogether as they please; but all the while the great liner is carrying them steadily onward toward a predetermined port.

So Tozer comments,

Both freedom and sovereignty are present here and they do not contradict each other.  So it is, I believe, with man’s freedom and the sovereignty of God.  The mighty liner of God’s sovereign design keeps its steady course over the sea of history.  God moves undisturbed and unhindered toward the fulfillment of those eternal purposes which He purposed in Christ Jesus before the world began. We do not know all that is included in those purposes, but enough has been disclosed to furnish us with a broad outline of things to come and to give us good hope and firm assurance of future well-being.

An Appeal

We must all choose whether we will obey the gospel or turn away in unbelief and reject its authority.  Our choice is our own, but the consequences of the choice have already been determined by the sovereign will of God, and from this there is no appeal.

This is a reminder of the harmony between the sovereign purposes of God and the need for a personal, volitional faith in Christ (also known as “compatibilism”).  Affirming the sovereignty of God does not put out the fire of evangelism.  Rather a firm belief in God’s full and free divine sovereignty fuels evangelistic fervor.    

*A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy [New York: HarperCollins, 1961], 111, 113.


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