Jazer: Assistance For The Weak In Faith

Letter 2: To Elimelech—On Divine Sovereignty

My dear Elimelech,

A clear apprehension of the sovereignty of God, and an habitual submission to it, will lay a firm foundation for your peace of mind, and afford you satisfactory solutions of the most mysterious things.

I am aware that an aversion to this important doctrine is deeply rooted in our nature, and the very essence of the first transgression was a quarrel with Jehovah’s sovereignty; “ye shall be as Gods,” was the bait with which the tempter ruined mankind.

This disposition to usurp Jehovah’s prerogative, discovers itself in every direction, and produces much of the distress, confusion, and guilt, which disgrace human nature, and agitate the whole creation of God: errors, doctrinal and practical, may be traced to this source, and even the children of God, who are brought under divine teaching, are slow to learn the absolute sovereignty of God, and still slower to submit to it, although their personal happiness is so closely connected with it.

In creation, providence, and grace, divine sovereignty is exercised and maintained. “Let there be light,” was the language of the Creator, “and there was light;” he consulted no will but his own, when he created all things by the word of his power.

It is his prerogative to order all things according to the counsel of his own will, “doing 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?” Dan. 4:35.

How striking is the view which the psalmist takes of this truth in the 33rd. Psalm. “The Lord bringeth the counsel of the heathen to nought, he maketh the devices of the people of none effect.” Here he asserts the Lord’s sovereign control over all human affairs, and then directs our attention to the stability of divine purposes, verse 11. “The counsel of the Lord standeth for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations.”

The rise and fall of nations— the prosperity and adversity of states— the bounds of our habitations — and the number of our days are all determined by him. But I wish more immediately to direct the attention of my dear young friend, to the grand displays of DIVINE SOVEREIGNTY in the scheme of redemption, and in the work of grace, both of which are wrapt up in obscurity, and veiled in thick darkness, until this centre and source of gospel blessings is explored.

The great first cause, from whence man’s salvation proceeds, is sovereign grace, and all its blessings must be traced up to this source to be fully enjoyed; no other doctrine will sufficiently humble the pride of man, and render to Jehovah the glory due to his name. Hence Moses is directed to assure Israel that their distinction and privileges as a nation, and as the church of God, were not because they were more in number than any other people, but because the Lord loved them, and Jesus himself advanced the same sentiment, when he taught Nicodemus, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16.

Still further to display the sovereignty of this love, we are informed, that it fixed upon its objects in the very foresight of their ruin and rebellion, and provided a full and complete salvation, without consulting the creature’s will, or requiring any merit at his hands; but in the face of all his perverseness, both before and after conversion. “I knew that thou wouldst deal very treacherously,” (Isaiah 48:8) yet, “for mine own sake, even for mine own sake will I do it.” Verse 11.

See, also my dear Elimelech, how divine sovereignty shines in the personal work of Christ, from his birth to his ascension: in the circumstances of his birth— in the obscurity in which he spent most of his days— in the privation to which he submitted— in the miracles which he wrought — and in the sufferings which he endured. In all these, sovereign love was carrying on the grand scheme, arranged in the counsel of peace. Nothing of human policy— human merit— or human influence appears in the whole of the sacred history.

The Father of mercies maintains his sovereignty, by demanding and receiving, at the hands of his Days-man, full satisfaction to his law and justice; laying on him the iniquities of the whole church, and accepting his righteousness on their behalf, yea, accepting their persons in the Beloved.

And, O how strikingly does our adorable Jesus exercise his sovereignty throughout his ministry on earth; see him, my dear young friend, going up into a mountain and calling unto him whom he would, hear him rebuking winds and seas, yea, devils also, and they obey him; pause, and admire that almighty touch, with which he heals diseases— opens the eyes of the blind— aud raises the dead; then read his sermon on divine sovereignty, in the 4th chapter of Mark, together with his assumption of that sovereignty in the 17th of John. And, surely, you will perceive, that, “as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them, even so the Son quickeneth whom he will.”

Indeed, divine sovereignty was a prominent feature of his ministry, of which you have a striking specimen in the gospel by Luke, 4th chapter, 25th to the 29th verses, and the effect of this doctrine upon the carnal mind, was the same then as it is now. “When they heard these things they were filled with wrath.”

Nor is it less conspicuous that the Holy Spirit exercises this sole prerogative of Deity, viz. absolute sovereignty. “As the wind bloweth where it listeth,” so are his mighty operations in the church. The prosperity of congregations— the conversion of sinners— the spiritual  growth and happiness of saints, are all the effects of his holy unction and irresistible influence; and to manifest his sovereignty, that influence is often bestowed through channels the most unlikely— means the most unpromising— and by instruments the most insignificant in themselves; while shining talents, and extensive attainments are often left to exhibit their sparkling littleness without him: so that on Zion’s prosperity it may always be written, “not by might nor by power, but by my spirit saith the Lord.”

Moreover, the positive I will with which the word of God abounds, are so many direct assertions of Jehovah’s absolute sovereignty; and these are so conspicuous upon almost every page of the sacred volume, that nothing but the old deeply rooted enmity of human nature can reject the glorious doctrine they assert. But, let my dear Elimelech turn to his own experience, and there he will find the sweetest evidence of the absolute sovereignty of Jehovah.

“Who maketh thee to differ from another?” Why were you distinguished by converting grace: from the rest of your family? Why were your eyes opened— your heart melted in contrition— and you transformed into the image of Christ, while the rest of your dear relatives are left in nature’s darkness, and in the bonds and chains of sin? Were you better than they? No, in no wise. The only reason you can assign, is that with which the Saviour has furnished you, “even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight.”

All the comforts you enjoy— the promises you embrace— the victories you obtain— and the devotional exercises of your soul are experimental proofs of divine sovereignty; they are not at your command, or under your controul, but of the operation of God the Spirit, according to the good pleasure of his own will.

Should unsanctified reason attempt to arraign the justice of God at its bar, it will be reproved by the very sovereignty it disputes, while the Judge of the whole earth exclaims, “is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own?” It would be easy to multiply portions of scripture, in proof of this precious doctrine, but as I had rather invite your attention to the experimental advantages of it, I shall close this short epistle with a few observations on the influence of this fundamental truth in the heart and life of a believer in Jesus.

Connect with the absolute sovereignty of God the sweet relations he sustains to his people, and then the most profound reverence will unite with the most implicit confidence— the most genuine humility with the most exalted assurance— yea, the most vigilant activity with the most passive resignation; so that however or wherever the believer is placed in providence, or whatever crosses, enemies, or trials he may be called to pass through, he will feel a sacred satisfaction, that the Judge of all the earth, who ordered all things according to the counsel of his own will, must do right.

Fear not, my dear young friend, it is thy Father who says “my counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure;” of his own will— he has begotten you by the word of truth; his own hand has fixed the bounds of your habitation, and numbered the hairs of your head; he has sovereign control over all your enemies, and all your sins, yea, it is his good pleasure to give you the kingdom; bow to his sceptre, rejoice in his sovereignty, and pray to have your will conformed to his. Every murmur against the absolute sovereignty of God, is a particle of vile effluvia, from the lake of atheism; nor do I see any alternative between the acknowledgement of his sceptre, and the denial of his existence. I am convinced that sovereign grace must take possession of the heart, before sovereign love can become a delightful theme; and I do not wonder that men, whose hearts are enmity against God should rage against the sovereignty of his will but when those who have tasted that the Lord is gracious, rebel against the divine procedure, because it does not accord with their limited and depraved judgments, they disgrace the Christian name, grieve the spirit of the Lord, and throw open the flood gates of unbelief, to admit a torrent of heresies. True happiness, and permanent peace, is the lot of those only, who have learned in all circumstances, and at all times to say from the heart, “THY WILL BE DONE.”

Here is the grand asylum of every tried Christian, the will of his heavenly Father. This is the firm foundation on which he places his comforts, and in God’s good pleasure every wish of his heart— every emotion of his soul— and every action of his life should find their centre.

To oppose this, is like attempting to hush the wind— extinguish the sun— or still the raging waves of the sea; while to know and bow to the absolute sovereignty of God, is the only safe way of crossing the boisterous ocean of time, the only infallible security amidst the stormy blasts of adversity, and the only state in which we can bask in the bright sunshine of gospel enjoyment.

That you, my dear Elimelech, may feel a sweet assurance, that the will of God toward you is governed by his love; and that all the provision of his grace, and wonders of his providence, are sweetly made to harmonize by his sovereignty in your present and eternal welfare, is the earnest desire and prayer of,

Yours, &c. affectionately,

In our dear Lord Jesus,


The daring worm, who lifts his puny arm

Against Jehovah’s sovereignty, attempts

No less, that that which hurl’d from heaven

Apostate angels to the lowest hell!

A king, and not to reign! preposterous thought!

A God! and not a king! strange Deity!

Such are the pagan Gods! such is not mine.

I own, adore, and love the mighty God

Whose WILL controls all worlds, whose high decrees

Fix bounds to time, and destiny to souls.

He took my nature, guilt and shame; unmask’d!

And gave me righteousness and love; unsought!

He bows, he melts, he hardens whom he will

Nor of His matter gives account to man.

Joseph Irons (1785-1852) was an Independent sovereign grace preacher, author and hymn writer. In 1819, he was appointed the minister of Grove Chapel, Camberwell, a position he held until his death thirty-three years later. John Hazelton wrote of him:

“Joseph Irons (1785-1852) was one of the ablest preachers of his day, and a powerful and prolific writer. His doctrinal teaching was pellucidly clear and consistent; he was a profound student and sound expositor of the Word of God, and many were influenced by his sermons, spoken and printed, and confirmed in the faith of God's elect. He was a determined foe of Romanism and Ritualism, deeply interested in the welfare of the young, and ready to aid any effort that commended itself to him on the basis of the faith for which he so earnestly contended. Many of his hymns have secured a permanent place in our hymnology, and his sermons are doctrinal, experimental, and practical in the best sense of the words. He never ceased to preach Christ, making Him the Alpha and Omega of all his discourses. He was born at Ware, in Hertfordshire, and brought up under the care and counsel of a godly father, who was a builder, and who trained his son in that trade. When he left his father's roof, he tells us the parting words were, "There's poor Joseph going to that wicked London. My heart bleeds while I bid him goodbye. I fear it will end in his ruin. You will be far away from a father's eye and a father's counsel, but never will I cease to pray for you that God may preserve and prosper you, although surrounded with so much that is evil." The youth was but eighteen when, in 1803, God led him to the Church of St. Mary Somerset, Thames Street, to hear W. Alphonsus Gunn, and there the arrow was directed into his conscience and he was brought to a saving knowledge of Divine truth. In 1808 his first sermon was preached over a smith's shop at Dulwich; he was actively engaged in business, but on most Sundays would walk from ten to twenty miles, preaching in various villages. "My only companions were my pocket Bible and its Divine Author, who often favoured me with the spirit of prayer on the way and shed many a ray of Divine light on the inspired page, so that I was furnished with a 'Thus saith the Lord.'"
After six years' service in Hertfordshire, he became pastor of the Church at Sawston, near Cambridge, and in January, 1818, he preached his first sermon in Camberwell. Ultimately, Grove Chapel was erected and opened on July 20th, 1819, and within its walls until the time of his death he continued proclaiming the Gospel; his mortal remains rest in a vault under the pulpit. In his last sermon, about ten days before his decease, he spoke of heaven in joyful terms: "I confess that my soul longs for it, and I anticipate meeting with prophets and apostles and patriarchs, and above all, with Jesus Himself, to behold Him face to face in glory, to be like Him, and to see Him as He is."
His published writings were numerous, some running into many editions. "Jazer," letters on Gospel doctrine; "Nathaniel," letters on Christian experience; "Nymphas," an exposition of the Song of Solomon; 611 original hymns; and a paraphrase of the Book of Psalms, are among the number. He established a Home Mission and other Societies for visiting and assisting the sick poor, and to the end of his life he was one of the best friends and helpers of the Aged Pilgrims' Friend Society. This great man was no idler in the Lord's vineyard. He talked not about "working for Christ," but delighted to magnify his glorious Lord. His sermons should be models for our preachers to-day in their perspicuity, plainness and power. He could not cut and trim to the times. His faithfulness gave offence to many whose creed and conduct could not bear the blaze of truth and the pointed appeals he made to conscience. Many hard speeches were made against him, but he remained unmoved as an iron pillar. As a man he had very tender feeling and often smarted under the unkind treatment of those of whom better things might have been hoped; but neither the fawning of one party nor the frowns of the other could shake his firmness. When at home in his "Shepherd's Tent," Grove Lane, he used very frequently to visit his chapel; to him it was a peaceful, private promenade, after the close confinement of his study, in which he spent many hours every day. Covenant love, covenant blood and covenant grace were his constant theme. His dying desire, so graciously fulfilled, was that Grove Chapel "might never be desecrated with another gospel." Someone told him that he put too much in his sermons and should reserve ideas for future use. He replied, "Thank God I obtain my materials from heaven; my Master knows what things I have need of, and having called me, He will not allow me to work alone. I get my sermons on my knees with the Word of God before my eyes and if I empty my seed-basket to-day, I know He will fill it to-morrow; therefore I will, God helping me, tell it all out, or it would be like a fire in my bones, burning its way out." Grove Chapel recalls many memories of those who have gone before; in its schoolroom is a unique collection of portraits of free grace ministers of various sections of the one Church. In No. 5 pew in the Chapel is the spot where the Lord first met with the "Wayside Notes" writer, broke him down in contrition of heart and revealed Christ to him as all his salvation, and there are friends still with us who can testify to the power of Mr. Irons' ministry, when in their early years they sat under it.”