God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility An Important Lesson from Acts 27 -- By: John H. Fish III

Journal: Emmaus Journal
Volume: EMJ 10:2 (Summer 2001)
Article: God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility An Important Lesson from Acts 27
Author: John H. Fish III

God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility
An Important Lesson from Acts 27

John H. Fish III. *

[*Jack Fish is a faculty member at Emmaus Bible College and is the editor of The Emmaus Journal.]


The relationship between the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man has been a thorny problem throughout the history of the church. Scripture clearly teaches both truths. Divine sovereignty “embraces everything that comes into the biblical picture of God as Lord and King in His world, the One who ‘worketh all things after the counsel of his own will’ (Eph. i.11), directing every process and ordering every event for the fulfilling of His own eternal plan.”1 Human responsibility is a truth that is presupposed on every page of Scripture. God commands and exhorts man and holds man responsible for his choices and actions.

There has been a tendency for some Christians to become preoccupied with one of these truths to the detriment of the other. Those who are one-sided emphasizing the sovereignty of God can make men seem to be mechanical robots. Those who overemphasize the freedom and ability of man can make God merely an observer of the events on the earth, one who is forced simply to react to what takes place. The great theological controversies between Augustine and Pelagius and between Calvin and Arminius were essentially over this issue.

Acts 27 is a passage which vividly brings this issue before us. This chapter is the most vivid description of a sea voyage and shipwreck that we have anywhere in ancient literature.2 In verse 22 in the midst of a terrible storm at sea,

when everyone had given up hope of getting through alive, Paul addressed those on the ship and said, Yet now I urge you to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship.” Now why did he say that? Verse 23, “For this very night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood before me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar; and behold, God has granted you all those who are sailing with you.” This was the promise of God. There would be no loss of life. If God has promised something, it is certain. For anyone on that ship to die would mean that God’s promise had failed.

But later on in verse

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