Dead While She Lives

The heading above this article may seem a little provocative, but it is a phrase right out of the word of God. It does need some context for a proper understanding of what Paul is teaching Timothy, who had a responsibility in the administration of the house of God, which is the assembly or church of God (I Timothy 3:14-15). On the subject of honoring and assisting widows, the apostle wrote this: “She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day; but she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives” (I Timothy 5:5-6 ESV).

What a serious charge against one who may even be accepted in the church as a believer, but who lives in a self-pleasing way! But what is the meaning of “dead” in this context?

After a recent Bible reading and discussion on the meaning of the concepts of “life” and “death” as used in Romans 8:1-13, I came across an article by J.N. Darby¹ with an insight into those terms that I had not very well understood or appreciated before. He writes this: “Life is that [by] which a being enjoys the position in which he is placed. Hence in man it may refer to that in which he enjoys what is down here, or, as he is in relationship with God, to his enjoying that position. Sin brought in the ruin of both . . . Literal death closes the enjoyment of what is down here, rather, more exactly, the capacity to enjoy . . . Death may be used generally for deprivation of capacity of enjoyment . . . When once man had taken his own will and lust [in the garden of Eden] he was dead as to God, and, though he might enjoy for a while what pleased those lusts, was dead to God . . . God was no source of enjoyment at all.”

Permit me to attempt a paraphrase of Darby’s observations:  Having life in any meaning of the word gives one the capacity to enjoy or find pleasure in the things that pertain to that realm or position. Conversely, death is that which separates one from (or deprives him of the capacity of enjoying) those things one can only enjoy while alive in that realm, be it physical, spiritual, or moral.

In Romans 8, we have the principle of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus introduced as that which enables believers in Christ to enjoy deliverance from the law, or principle, of sin (v. 2).  We find there also the contrasting relationships of the mind of the flesh with spiritual death on the one hand, versus the mind of the Spirit with spiritual life and peace (v.6).  Then, in verses 10 and 11, we are assured that, even though physical death might touch the believer’s body, as it touched Christ’s human body, the Spirit will absolutely quicken, or make alive, our bodies at the “redemption of our body”.

But how important it is that “all things that pertain unto life and godliness”² be enjoyed in the Christian’s soul, and not just affirmed academically. That seems to be where the very practical and searching message of Romans 8:13 applies.  “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.”  Living according to the flesh, or in self-indulgence, as in the case of the hypothetical widow mentioned above, brings about a moral deadness and inability to enjoy the things of the divine nature.  Mortifying the deeds of the flesh by the power of the Spirit of life allows a Christian to fully enjoy eternal life in the Son. May we each have the grace and the godly exercise to “lay hold of that which is really life”³.

¹  “Life and Eternal Life”, Notes and Comments, Volume 2 (linked here)

²  II Peter 1:2-4

³  I Timothy 6:19, Darby translation

The Spirit of God and His Work (cont’d)

In the first part of this short study on the Spirit of God (found at this link), we looked at five different designations for that “one and the same Spirit”.  Let us dig a little farther into this profound subject now, with the Lord’s help.

One Spirit:  The truth that there is one Spirit has already been referenced above, and is found not only in I Corinthians 12, but also in Ephesians 2 and 4.  It is no coincidence that these two epistles more than any other give us teaching on the church, or assembly, of God – Ephesians emphasizing the doctrinal aspect of the “one body” of Christ, and I Corinthians developing the practical working of that one Spirit in the functioning of the assembly. It seems clear that sound doctrine concerning the church, and right practice in the church, depend upon these convictions in a Christian’s soul: that the one body of Christ was formed by the baptism of that one Spirit¹; that this body can only really be edified by the gifts distributed by the one Spirit²; and that ecclesiastical independence and denominational division is contrary to the “unity of the Spirit”³ and a real grief to Him.

The Spirit of Christ:  This title is used in I Peter 1:11, and seems to be referred to as well in I Peter 3:18-20.  Peter reveals to us that Christ (the “Anointed” or “Messiah” of the Old Testament) was operative by His Spirit upon the spirits of men in earlier ages. God’s Spirit and God’s Anointed act in perfect concert, both before and after the incarnation. We find in Romans 8:9 that the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ are the same person viewed from a different aspect. It should read like this: “. . . but if any one has not the Spirit of Christ he is not of Him” (JND translation). The Spirit of Christ is now operative upon the believer’s spirit, to bring about deliverance from sin in the power of Christ’s risen life. If His Spirit is not dwelling in a person, he is not really “Christian”, though he or she may have been born again or quickened, as Old Testament saints were.

The Spirit of His Son:  This appellation has everything to do with God’s grace in providing for our enjoyment of our dignified position as adopted sons of God.  “God sent forth His Son . . . that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father” (Galatians 4:4-6).

The Spirit of your Father:  In Matthew 10:20, the Lord Jesus uses this designation for the Spirit to impart assurance to His disciples of the tender care and guidance of their heavenly Father, whom He was revealing to them progressively throughout His ministry here. “It is not ye that speak [before governors and kings], but the Spirit of your Father that speaketh in you.”   We can count on that same care and guidance from a loving Father by His Spirit through any difficulties or persecutions we may face in these last days.

The Spirit of grace:  This phrase is found but once in the Bible, and its context is a very sobering one.  Hebrews 10:29 gives a fearful warning to any Jew who is in danger of turning back from the Christ he has professed to believe, which would insult the Spirit of grace, because it is that Spirit by whom God in Christ revealed such marvelous grace toward all men for the salvation of their souls (Titus 2:11; John 1:17).  The Hebrews who came in among true Christians in the church, and experienced all that God was doing among them in divine power (Hebrews 6:1-9), but turned back without truly believing (Hebrews 10:38-39), perpetrated an unpardonable sin in despising the grace of God the Spirit.

The Holy Spirit of promise: This blessed name for the Spirit is found within the portion giving us the lofty truth of all the spiritual blessings we have in Christ, in Ephesians 1:3-14.  We who have believed are “sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance” until we are fully brought into that inheritance upon the redemption of our bodies. Is it possible that a true Christian might perish who was sealed (with a mark of ownership) by a divine Person who acts as a promise or earnest?  Never!  “Yes, I to the end shall endure, as sure as the earnest is giv’n; more happy, but not more secure, the spirits departed to heav’n” (Augustus Toplady, 1771).

There are several more designations for the Spirit in the word of God, and each one is meaningful, but we will leave off here. May “the Lord the Spirit” work in each of our souls an ongoing transformation into the image of the Lord Jesus Christ, as we look upon His glory with unveiled face (II Corinthians 3:18 JND).

 

¹  I Corinthians 12:13; Acts 1:5 and 2:1-4; Ephesians 2:11-22

²  I Corinthians 12:4-11; Ephesians 4:11-16

³  Ephesians 4:1-6; I Corinthians 1:10-13 and 11:17-19

 

The Spirit of God and His Work on Earth

It is a weighty matter to attempt to write on a subject so grand as the person and work of the One referred to most often in the Bible simply as “the Spirit”.  It is likely that He is the person of the triune Godhead who has been least understood and appreciated during these Christian centuries.  While it would be impossible to do justice to the subject of the eternal Spirit in a brief article, or for that matter even in a lengthy commentary, He is nevertheless worthy of diligent study and meditation, and the word of God gives us ample material for such a meditation.

There seems to be a reluctance among many Christians to delve into such an unfathomable subject, in light of the error that many in Charismatic and Pentecostal circles have been led into by exalting the Spirit of God to a place He never took for Himself. After the ascension and exaltation of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Spirit came forth from the Father as the Spirit of truth, in order to bear testimony of and to glorify Christ, not to speak from Himself (on His own), nor to solicit glory or worship for Himself.¹ Accordingly, there is no precedent in all of Scripture for praying to or worshiping the Spirit, nor for praying in His name.

An even more serious error in the opposite “ditch” has been the denial by various cults over the centuries of the distinct personality and deity of the Spirit. Such a denial destroys the fundamental doctrine of the trinity, of God fully revealing Himself in three persons in Christianity, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The trinity of the Godhead was not fully understood in the Old Testament (although retrospectively we can see partial disclosures of it), but to undermine it now in any way is the height of heterodoxy.

A good way to learn about the Spirit is to review His titles or designations throughout the word of God, but particularly in the New Testament, where His person and work is revealed with respect to Christ and His own. There are more than a dozen such designations, and it is my purpose to touch on the significance of some of them briefly.

The Spirit:  In the frequent use of the title of “the Spirit”, the lack of a modifier would seem to indicate most clearly His personality, dignity, and authority. We might provide as examples the occasions in the Acts when the Spirit definitely directs the apostles and prophets in their actions and utterances, as well as in I Corinthians 12, where He seen as the power behind the spiritual gifts or manifestations in the assembly.

The Spirit of God:  We find this title used in several places in the Scriptures to establish the Spirit’s deity, and particularly His absolute competency in revealing the things of God to saints who are indwelt by Him. “The things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God” (I Corinthians 2:10-12). Another example of this appears in I John 4:2: “Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God.” The spirit of a man knows what lies in the man himself, but it has no capacity to truly know God apart from the Spirit of God, who searches “the deep things of God.”

The Holy Spirit:  Usually rendered “Holy Ghost” by the translators of the KJV Bible, this designation for the Spirit frequently sets before us His interest in bearing testimony to God’s holiness in this world now that God has manifested Himself here in flesh, and so we scarcely find the term in the Old Testament. Consider these fragments:  “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee . . . therefore also that holy Thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1: 35).  “Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30).  “For God has not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness . . . who hath also given unto us His Holy Spirit” (I Thessalonians 4:7-8). Fittingly, “Holy Spirit” is used dozens of times in the Acts, in which God begins to call, by His Spirit, a people sanctified or set apart² for Himself out of an unholy world.

The Comforter:  This title of the Spirit is found exclusively in the “upper room ministry” of the Lord Jesus (John 13-16), where He speaks so tenderly to His disciples of the time period after He would go to the Father.  Jesus would no longer be with them to aid them and comfort them, as He had so faithfully for more than three years. So He promised not to leave them comfortless, or as orphans (14:18), for it was His care and advocacy that they especially seemed to fear losing. The Greek word translated here as Comforter, parakletos, is also translated as “advocate” in I John 2:1, where it is “Jesus Christ the righteous” who takes up our cause or makes our case before the Father when we sin.  This helps us to understand the Comforter’s advocacy on our behalf in this world, while we are “absent from the Lord.”

The Spirit of Truth:  The Lord Jesus speaks to His disciples in the upper room of the coming of the Spirit of truth,¹ in conjunction with His title of Comforter. Not only does the Spirit take up the Christian’s cause and act as advocate for him, but He also bears a true witness concerning the glorified Christ, and is fully competent to guide the Christian “into all the truth.”  There can be no excuse for a believer going astray from the body of revealed truth found in the word of God,³ and especially not since much truth long forgotten was recovered through the goodness of God a couple of centuries ago. How much we ought to depend upon the Lord to bring us along in our souls in the enjoyment of the truth, by means of the Spirit of truth!

(To be continued, Lord willing.)

 

¹  John 15:26; 16:13-15

²  The words “holy”, “sanctified”, and “saint” are all from the same Greek root.

³  See also I John 2:20-27

The God That Shepherded Me All My Life Long

Over the past three decades, I have often been asked to give an account of the way the Lord has led us in our walk with Him and with others of the household of faith. When Pharaoh asked Jacob to give an account of his years at their first meeting in ancient Egypt, Jacob’s answer was not yet an utterance of worship or of hope, for it seems he was just beginning to make the transition from complainant with a begrudging, backward look to worshiper with prophetic insight and upward gaze. May my outlook never be that “all these things are against me”, or that “few and evil have been the days of the years” of my sojourning.  Much rather, let my spirit emulate that of the Jacob who finally said: “The God that shepherded me all my life long to this day, the Angel which redeemed me from all evil”.¹ For the Lord has indeed been my Shepherd through the years.

I was born to loving parents, was reared, born again, baptized, married, and started a family in a Christian denomination that dates back almost 500 years to the early period of the Reformation. I have many fond memories of my first 25 years, for the church folk around me were caring and kind, and I wish for those who remain there only the blessing of the Lord.  But it was perhaps in my 24th year that the Spirit of God began to exercise my soul, first as to my own failures, and then as to the claims of the Scriptures upon me, not only morally, but also ecclesiastically and doctrinally. I will attempt to give account of these exercises, and of how the Lord shepherded me, along with my understanding wife, through a period of changes and up to this day.

The first matter that the Lord used to stir me up was that of denominational identity. While others around me seemed to find no fault with denominating themselves collectively using the name of an early leader of that religious movement, I felt increasingly uncomfortable with the custom when I read and thought upon the implications of I Corinthians 1:10-13 and 3:4-7.  “While one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?”  That is a searching question that surely goes deeper than sectarian names, but it certainly must include that prejudicial practice.

Perhaps the logical outcome of a having a conscience troubled about denominationalism was to seek to understand how the church of God was meant to function in practical unity, prior to its gradual division into various communions over disputes ranging from trivial to foundational. To my unlearned mind, it was evident that these divisions were all the result of failure among Christians of one sort or another, but I longed to be able to have fellowship with other believers on a scriptural basis. In fact, I remember telling others, with some conviction, that there had to be a basis for fellowship with other Christians worldwide that was scriptural, and that met the criteria that the Spirit had impressed upon me to date, even though I had as of yet no idea if there were any in the world who met simply on that ground, on those principles.

During that particular period, the church we belonged to was looking and praying for a minister or “preacher”, for it hadn’t had one for several years, and procuring one was thought to be necessary to the church’s spiritual well-being. At one particular Wednesday night Bible study, the text of I Timothy 5 was under discussion. When verse 17 came into view, more light on the matter of ministry and leadership in the church of God dawned on me than ever had up to that point. “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine.” I already knew what Bible scholars generally admit, that “elders” and “bishops” (overseers) were the same people viewed from different perspectives. What impressed me was that in the beginning it was normal for there to be multiple elders or overseers in an assembly, rather than one bishop over a congregation or group of congregations, as our denomination taught. Furthermore, it was obvious from this verse that an elder may or may not spend much of his time laboring in the word, showing that the rigid structure of ordination and the clergy/laity divide was not contemplated by the Spirit of God or by the apostles.

The most earth-shaking development in my soul during that period was a dawning conviction that true believers in Christ were eternally secure without a possibility of losing their eternal life or salvation. Even more striking to me (and at the same time a cause for the welling-up of some real emotion for the gravity of it), was the nascent understanding that I was chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, which of course supported the truth of eternal security. Multiple Scripture references bear on these wonderful doctrines,² but for this narrative it will suffice to mention John 10:26-30.  By means of that passage, I inadvertently raised a controversy during another Bible study I happened to be leading during a Sunday morning service, for a minister had not yet been ordained to fill the normal preaching role.  “My sheep hear My voice, and they follow Me: and I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand. My Father, which gave them Me . . .”  Found together in these three verses are perfect security, election, and predestination, but it is remarkable how quickly the argument is made by Arminian teachers that one can take himself out of Christ’s hand, even if none else can. However, the brief phrase “they shall never perish”, taken in context but not annulled by the subordinate clause that follows it, is enough to assure the soul of the simple believer that he shall not, under any circumstance, finally be lost forever.

Realizing that the truth that God was impressing upon me was not welcome in our native denomination, we left it so as not to stir up emotion and strife among those we still loved. But the Lord had more to teach us before He settled our hearts with regard to the matter of fellowship. We attended a small home church for about six months, where I became troubled about several of their traditional teachings. Not only did they also reject the doctrine of the believer’s eternal security, but I came to see there the pitfalls of a legalistic believer’s baptism, autonomy in church fellowship, and an open (unguarded) communion table. After seeing these errors, we were led by God’s shepherding care away from that group and to a gathering of saints where the many things I had learned by the Spirit from the Bible over the course of a year or two were answered and affirmed.

It brought further affirmation to find that two of the teachings I had learned and held as true from my youth in our ancestral sect were also appreciated among these brethren gathered simply in the name of the Lord Jesus:  Conscientious objection to military and political involvement, and the clear teaching as to head coverings in ministry and worship, found in I Corinthians 11.

Dispensational teaching was one major line of truth that I only came to learn and enjoy a few years after being gathered with others in the name of the Lord Jesus.  The brethren were patient with my ignorance in that regard, allowing time for growth in the understanding of God’s timetable and His various ways of dealing with men on the earth throughout the ages, which dispensationalism teaches. The “blessed hope” of the rapture of the church to meet its Head in heaven, and of our literal reign with Him for a thousand years, still brings great comfort and enjoyment to our hearts. It is only right that the Lord Jesus Christ should be glorified and reign over this earth (where He was once crucified and is still rejected), ruling the nations with a rod of iron, receiving them from His Father as an inheritance, in company with His beloved church.³

It has brought satisfaction and peace to my soul to have a real sense that our loving Lord has shepherded us, in many cases by teaching me principles from His word months prior to encountering brethren who enjoyed and practiced the same truth. By grace, we can still have happy fellowship on the simple ground of the unity of the body of Christ, though in separation from false doctrine and practice. “It is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).

I have waxed longer with this account than necessary, perhaps, but there is even more that could have been said for the glory of God.  May the Lord use this much as an encouragement to seeking souls.  “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

 

¹  Genesis 42:36; 47:9; 48:15-16 (Darby translation)

²   Ephesians 1:3-14; Romans 8:31-39; John 6:37-40

³   Psalm 2:8-9; Revelation 2:27

Conservatism and the Word of God

Over the past few generations, Western society has been increasingly viewed through a prism that divides liberal and conservative thought, and many of us tend to place ourselves somewhere in that spectrum.  This is understandable, if we take into account the historical forces and paradigm shifts that have changed the world over the last century.

A term that has come into vogue as a more palatable substitute for “liberal” is the term “progressive”, at least when the subject is the political spectrum. If the term “liberal” is used in a societal or religious context, there is implied by it a liberty or freedom of thought that is disinclined to be bound to historical norms or traditional teachings. The idea of progressivism seems to emphasize more the spirit of making progress, which of necessity implies that a former mode of thinking or acting lacks the moral power to provide modern humanity with the peace and prosperity it has always sought. These terms are both relative ones, when viewed against their cultural and historical setting.

Conservatism is also a relative paradigm, and I suppose no one would dispute that observation. But what interests me as a student, both of the Word of God and of the human race, is not whether a segment of society or a political party are deemed conservative relative to a liberal or progressive paradigm: What really matters are the principles and practices that are being conserved, or kept safe and intact. After all, what value is there in keeping that which is by nature false or corrupted?

The word of God, understood and taught within a dispensational framework¹, is without doubt the preeminently worthwhile thing to be conserved or kept in this life. God gives us His own estimation of His word by the pen of David in Psalm 138:2:  “I will . . . praise Thy name for Thy lovingkindness and for Thy truth: for Thou hast magnified Thy word above all Thy name.”  The word of God is the medium by which God has revealed His name to us (as Jehovah to Israel and as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the New Testament), therefore He gives His word the preeminence that befits it.

The Lord Jesus’ entire life demonstrates to us the value He placed on the Scriptures. As the Word made flesh, He could not do otherwise than obey it implicitly, and He made it clear to all that the word of God formed all of His thoughts and guided all He did.²  Jesus continually reminded His followers of the importance of obeying and keeping the word of God, and His gentle correction of an adoring woman in His company in Luke 11:27-28 ought to speak volumes to us.  When she made much of the blessedness of Mary, as many in Christendom still do, He does not miss the opportunity to declare what it is that really brings blessedness: “Blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.” This declaration ought to be for Christians the very essence of conservative Christianity – conserving the word of God in all its integrity (not the traditions of men) by allowing it full authority over our lives and consciences.

Satan uses many devices to prevent us from keeping the word of God, but I will mention a few that we ought to particularly guard against in these last days. Worldliness keeps so many from even reading or “hearing” the word, which is an obvious prerequisite for keeping it. Humanism keeps a man’s thoughts and aspirations down at the level of human needs and desires, rather than seeking first and foremost the glory of God, and His righteousness. Liberalism leads people astray by emphasizing ethics over doctrine and experience over Scriptural authority, when it is sound doctrine and the authority of God’s word to which the Lord Himself and all the inspired writers subject our consciences. Allowing oneself to be caught in any of these snares virtually ensures failure in conserving the precious word of God.

There is an apt picture of the principle of conserving the truth we have received, given us in Ezra 8:24-34, in which a remnant of Judah returned from Babylon to Jerusalem carrying the silver, gold, and vessels of the house of God, which had been looted from the temple by King Nebuchadnezzar many years earlier. This precious trove was weighed and counted at the beginning of their trip, carried across the desert, and finally weighed and counted again at the end of the journey, to ensure that all that collection so valuable to Jehovah was kept in its integrity until they reached their destination.

May each of us who have been predestined for glory, and to be conformed to the image of God’s Son, have the desire and the strength to keep the truth of His word until we reach that final destination. The word of the Lord Jesus to the Philadelphian saints was: “Thou hast a little strength, and hast kept My word . . . ” and again, “Because thou hast kept the word of My patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world.”³  It is especially encouraging to notice that, of all the seven churches written to in Revelation 2 and 3, the positive assurance of the Lord’s love (“I have loved you”) is given only to the Philadelphian saints, who kept His word.  Surely the Lord Jesus loves all of His own, but those whom He can commend for keeping His word are especially able to claim and enjoy it.

 

¹   Understanding the Scriptures dispensationally simply means that God has dealt with man on the earth in different ways administratively during the various periods of history.

²   John 1:14; 5:30,39; 7:16-18; 8:26-28; etc.

³   Revelation 3:8-10

The Nations Are Dust on the Scales

In the end, it was the God of heaven who selected the 45th president of the United States of America. Many of those in that country who feared Him had been in consternation as to the moral or spiritual qualifications of the candidates for that high office, and some had prayed that their God would give reprieve from what seemed to be a decline into an increasingly intolerant environment for faithful Christians. After all, the Bible enjoins prayer “for all that are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty” (I Timothy 2:2).

Many of the Christians who voted for the prevailing candidate were never quite able to feel good about doing so in the light of the scandals and moral failings they had become well aware of before they cast their vote for the president, and some of them fell back in their minds on the old doctrine of “the end justifies the means.”  Those who voted for the losing candidate were eventually tempted with a feeling of schadenfreude while observing the failures of the new leader, who would never in any case have been able to right the sinking ship of moral and political power in what was called the West.

The new president presided over a superpower nation, one of the nations which the Lord Jesus declared would hold sway on this earth and over the land of His chosen people Israel, until “the times of the nations (Gentiles)” would be fulfilled (Luke 21:24). For He who became known as the God of heaven in Daniel’s day because His land was overrun by the the nations, is still really the “Lord of all the earth”¹ that Joshua knew, who led His chosen people into the land of Canaan, that land which He specially claimed in perpetuity (Leviticus 25:23; Ezekiel 21:27) to be the earthly inheritance of the people of the Son of Man.

The diplomatic priorities and policies of the new president contributed to the rise of kingdoms in the Middle East that would invade the land of Israel and eventually fall in the battles of Armageddon.  And no matter what strategy this leader of the free world pursued in dealing with Russia, that ascendant nation continued the diabolical scheming that would eventually lead to its utter destruction; because in the end, Russia dared to come up against Israel and its Savior, who has promised to magnify Himself and “be known [as Jehovah] in the eyes of many nations” (Ezekiel 38).

For in the end, the God of heaven and earth² will have seen to it that His beloved Son is glorified over all the earth.  All God’s delight is in His Son, who was rejected and crucified by the man whom He created. It has always been God’s ultimate and over-arching purpose to have the Lord Jesus Christ His Son take His rightful place as “firstborn of all creation . . . that in everything He might be preeminent” (Colossians 1:15-18 ESV). Prince and pauper alike will bow the knee to Him.

The most blessed portion for men in all that coming scene of His glory will be that of Christians who suffer with Christ in this life and end up overcomers, because to them is given the promise of reigning with Christ: “To him will I give power over the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father” (Revelation 2:26-27).  The nations, from the superpower on down to the city-state, along with their leaders, are truly no more than a drop from a bucket, no more than dust on the scales, when weighed against God’s eternal counsels.³

 

¹   Daniel 2:18,19,37,44; Joshua 3:13

²  Ezra 5:11; Matthew 11:25

³  Isaiah 40:15; Ephesians 1:8-11

Does God Control Evil Men?

Recent political events and discussions in the United States have served to remind us that God often sets up the basest of men and women over the nations of this world (Daniel 4:17). Now it is not my desire to enter into a political discussion here, but rather, to discuss a few principles from the Scriptures that may help  us understand how God maintains control in the affairs of men, all the while leaving them free to follow their own desires and inclinations.

Let’s begin with the words of an inspired prayer of the apostles and early Christians in Acts 4:24-31. “Lord, Thou art the God . . . who hast said by the mouth of thy servant David, Why have the nations raged haughtily and the peoples meditated vain things? The kings of the earth were there, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord and against His Christ. For in truth against Thy holy servant Jesus, whom Thou hadst anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the nations, and peoples of Israel, have been gathered together in this city to do whatever Thy hand and Thy counsel had determined before should come to pass” (Darby translation). This is a remarkable passage, for not only is it the Spirit’s indictment on history’s most nefarious conspiracy, but we are here clearly told that God is able to predetermine by His counsel an evil act or conspiracy without compromising His impeccable, holy character.

This question goes to the heart of the Calvinist/Arminian divide, and to the debate over so-called “free will”. However, I do not intend to delve into the theological depths of that argument, but rather to bring Scripture to bear primarily on the question of how God righteously constrains and manipulates men of the world for His own glory. Isaiah 45 provides a good example of this in Cyrus.

Humans sin against their Creator and against His creatures  as a result of a combination of these three factors: Inclination, Opportunity, and Suggestion. I believe we see this clearly in Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden, and I have no doubt we can trace these factors in all of our personal failures.

Eve had the inclinations that are inherent in human nature, even before she sinned, and she was drawn to the forbidden fruit for what she felt it offered her (nourishment, enjoyment, and wisdom), even though God had provided everything they needed, freely and in abundance.

Adam and Eve certainly had the opportunity to do that which forbidden by God, for He had placed the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden with nothing but a command to keep them from partaking of it. He placed no fence around it, and the fruit was evidently within reach of the ground.

But it was the suggestion of the serpent that we might call the catalyst that brought about the sin which God anticipated before time began.  “Ye shall not surely die . . . ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4-5). Along with that suggestion and vital to its success was the additional claim that God’s promised judgment was but an empty threat.

It may be a difficult thing to accept, but it is the prerogative of God to commission Satan, or at least to allow him, to suggest to man a course of action that will result in glory for Himself.¹  One of the most instructive passages in the Word of God on the matter of Jehovah’s manipulation of evil spirits to lead men down a particular course is found in II Chronicles 18, where a certain spirit volunteers to use the mouth of a prophet to lead King Ahab to his doom. And in the New Testament, when Satan himself entered into poor Judas and drove him to betray the Lord Jesus, that was no doubt a part of “the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). This resulted in the Lord’s crucifixion to the glory of His Father, and for the eternal blessing of all of us whom God has chosen and called.

So how does this work practically with respect to a “king”, whose “heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: He turneth it whithersoever He will”? (Proverbs 21:1)  Imagine an unbelieving king or dictator or president with a natural inclination toward pride, and a desire to be revered for his wisdom and strength. God may give opportunity (by removing hindrances, for example) to that ruler to destroy the life or career of his rival, while an evil spirit could suggest that in doing so the ruler may consolidate his power without fear of consequences. Now suppose that this kind of thing happens dozens of times a day, for decisions great or small, and that in every instance, that man makes the choices that give him the most pleasure. His heart leads him along down the path of destruction, while Satan and his servants suggest his choices and God does not hinder him. Thus is man a slave to his own lusts, in effect helpless but for sovereign intervention.

Only the Christian is free from this downward spiral of bondage to the flesh, by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).  Only the Christian has the life of Christ and the Spirit of God within, so that Paul could write: “The flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these things are opposed one to the other, that ye should not do those things which ye desire”.    Moreover, “the love of Christ constrains us.”²

The unbeliever has no such check on his carnal inclinations, so that if either past experience or a lying spirit suggests there are no consequences to selfish choices, there is no depth to which the natural heart of man will not go.  “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil” (Ecclesiastes 8:11).

Our God is absolutely not the author of evil, but just as He can make the wrath of man to praise Himself, and then restrain the remainder of that wrath,³ so also can He glorify Himself through the evil in the minds of His creatures. God is able to constrain the acts of the vilest despot, who nevertheless freely and continually chooses his destructive course.  And there, but for the marvelous grace of God, go I.

 

¹  II Chronicles 18:12-27; Job 1&2; Matthew 4:1; Luke 22:3; John 13:27

²  Galatians 5:17, Darby translation; II Corinthians 5:14

³  Psalm 76:10